Alternative To Spell Slots & Points

A couple of years back there was some discussion around the blogosphere about prospects for creating a simplified system for equipment deterioration.  As far as I can tell, it all started with Logan’s Notch system, various permutations of which quickly multiplied (e.g. here, here and here).  Logan’s notch system was as follows: each time one rolls a 1 or a 2 in combat, that PC’s weapon receives a notch.

Each weapon can take Notches equal to its damage die (so a dagger can take 4 Notches, a long sword can take 8, Lumpy Space Princess’s knifemace can take 10).  Once the weapon has 2 Notches, roll 2 of the weapon’s damage die after every attack, if the roll is equal to or less than the number of Notches, the weapon breaks. So you might embarrassingly break your ax with a wild swing against the wall, or you might snap your dagger off in the merchant priest’s chest.  If the weapon takes another Notch after it has reached its limit, it breaks.

Armor deterioration is treated in a similar manner.  Others modified this basic system to account for the way in which the quality of the equipment would make a difference to a weapon’s receiving a notch.

What does this have to do with spell-casting?  Just this, it occurred to me that something like this notch system might serve as an interesting alternative to Vancian and mana based spell systems.  Here are a couple of examples of how to model such a system.

Example 1: Varying Polyhedron Dice Notch System

Whenever a spellcaster enacts a spell have him or her roll a die selected from the table below.  On a roll of 1 the caster receives a notch, indicating that the strain of casting the spell is beginning to take its toll.  Once a caster runs out of notches he or she cannot cast any more spells for the day.  A 1st level caster cannot sustain any spell strain at all.  On a roll of 1 they’re done.  At 5th level a caster can sustain 1 notch of spell strain.  At 10th level, this becomes 2 notches, 3 at 15th and finally 4 at 20th.

Spell Level

Polyhedron Dice

Level 1

1d20

Level 2

1d12

Level 3

1d10

Level 4

1d8

Level 5

1d6

Level 6

1d4

Level 7

1d3

Level 8

1d2

Level 9

1*

*Casting ninth level spells automatically incurs a notch.

Example 2: D20 Notch System

This system is nearly identical to the previous one except that it uses the following alternative D20 table.  Here the number one must roll above to avoid receiving a notch gets increasingly higher proportional to the level of the spell being cast.

Spell Level

Roll on a D20

Level 1

2

Level 2

4

Level 3

6

Level 4

8

Level 5

10

Level 6

12

Level 7

14

Level 8

16

Level 9

18

One of the implications of this system is that on average, low lever casters will be able to cast more lower level spells than they currently do with the other systems, and high level casters will not be able to cast quite as many high level spells.  Depending on your perspective this might be considered a virtue or a vice of the system.  One of the advantages of applying the notch system to spell-casting is that it could potentially cut down on the amount of book-keeping.  Further, it adds a Russian Roulette element of suspense to each casting (Will Elric’s magic fizzle out in the middle of a critical battle?).  Like the mana system it also presents players with an interesting choice between casting “safer” lower level spells, or gambling with riskier higher level ones.  The downside of course is that the system multiplies the amount of dice rolled at the table. However since each die roll is suspenseful, I don’t see this as too much of a cost.

For my own campaign I use a mana system that I’m more or less happy with, but it might be fun to try this out sometime as an experiment.  I’d be curious if anyone else out there has done something similar to this.