I've been thinking a lot about how magic works in D&D and how it could be simpler. My players tend to be casual and don't read the rulebooks backward and forwards. Only one person I play with owns a Player's Handbook, and the rest of them are at the table for the ride I'm giving them. As a result, none of them have ever played a wizard or cleric.
"Seems like a lot of work."
Just what I've heard from them. Meanwhile, I read blog after blog of OSR enthusiasts inventing rules for streamlining combat or generating random encounters, but nothing for just giving players a simplified wizard character with little to no work on their part.
Enter Stars Without Number. The original rules have a very streamlined and elegantly simple way for psychic characters to progress through their power. The revised edition expands on this system, adding common abilities attached to the psychic's skill level with the area of psychic discipline.
This last week I've been thinking about how you could apply this simple elegance to wizards, and there are a lot of pitfalls. How do you give them the ability to detect magic and identify magic items? How do you give them the same arc of power present in earlier versions of D&D? How do you allow them to specialize in one type of magic? I stopped trying to solve all of the problems and decided to just make my own wizards. I've never liked the Vancian system of magic, and I always felt the 2nd edition AD&D method of specializing in a school was hobbled with bad bonuses. I like the idea though so I want there to be two types of Magic-Users: specialists and wizards. Specialists would be characters who receive less power overall but get automatic bonuses from their school/affinity and Wizards would receive greater powers but would not be able to specialize in any way. So far, this is what I've come up with:
Assuming a 10-level character progression...
Magic is divided up into affinities, or paths, and a magic-user studies an affinity in order to cast spells from it.
Magic-Users have Magic Points equal to their Constitution score plus their Intelligence modifier.
1st-level Spells cost 9 Magic Points to cast at 1st-level. At each successive level, they cost 1 less Magic Point to cast. All spell levels act like this, thus a 2nd-level Magic-User casts 2nd-level spells with 9 Magic Points and 1st-level spells with 8 Magic Points. Specialists always reduce the cost to cast their spells by 1 Magic Point. Sleeping for 8 hours restores all Magic Points.
All Magic-Users can Detect Magic. They need to concentrate to see magical auras, which means moving slowly and taking no other actions. When a Magic-User touches an object, they instantly know whether it is magical or not, regardless of whether they're concentrating or not.
An example of an Affinity might be:
Level 1 = Speak with Corpse (spirit of dead body speaks to necromancer)
Level 2 = Scare (frightens opponent into fleeing/cowering)
Level 3 = Drain Life (touch creature and drain 1d4hp to gain 1mp per caster level each round)
Level 4 = Contagion (produces/spreads disease)
Level 5 = Enervation (fatigues living creatures)
Level 6 = Create Undead (raises corpses as zombie soldiers, or assembles bones into skeletal servants)
Level 7 = Magic Jar (necromancer's spirit is able to live on past the destruction of their body)
Level 8 = Clone (makes a perfect copy of one creature)
Level 9 = Death Spell (instantly slays one creature)
I'm not sure if this really works, I'm going to keep thinking about this though.