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


Level 2


Level 3


Level 4


Level 5


Level 6


Level 7


Level 8


Level 9


*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


Level 2


Level 3


Level 4


Level 5


Level 6


Level 7


Level 8


Level 9


One of the implications of this system is that on average, low level 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.


6 thoughts on “Alternative To Spell Slots & Points

  1. I think this is a pretty cool system. I think magic needs to be a bit more variable. I prefer the d20 notch system. If a first level guy gets a notch, does the current spell go off? I think you could combine this with some sort of mishap roll.

    The only problem I see with the current setup is wizards only get more spells they can use per day every 5 levels. A first level wizard and a 4th level wizard (keeping to first level spells) can cast the same number.

    I think a wizard needs a notch per level or at most every other level. Not sure how to work that out. I’m going to play with it a bit. I’m sure they is a way to include meta-magic type stuff too. Counter spelling a rival could effect this roll as well. The cool thing about that is in the current system doing a counter spell is at best a draw and at worst a wasted action, there is really no way to come out on top. With this system counter spelling could cause the other wizard to receive a notch (or a mishap).

    1. Funny you should mention spell mishaps because that’s going to be the topic of my next blog post. As written the spell would still go off, however this can easily be altered such that when a caster runs out of notches (or has none to begin with), failing a roll results in a mishap.

      You are right, as conceived this system would potentially allow a 1st level caster the same amount of spells as a 4th level caster. That’s a problem. It is somewhat offset by the fact that the 4th level caster would have more spells in his or her arsenal (and depending upon which system you are playing with, these spells would be more potent), but I agree that there is room for improvement here.

      However for at least a couple of reasons I’d hesitate to add too many more notches to the system. First, the more notches you have, the more book-keeping, and at some point the system might begin to look suspiciously like a mana system. Second, too many notches would greatly multiply the number of spells a caster can cast beyond what other systems allow for. If that’s what you want, well and fine, but it would probably be to high a price for most folks.

      But play around with it and see if you find something that works for you.


  2. One way of doing it would be to give a wizard 1d4 per caster level per day (or per odd level). When casting a spell you roll as many d4 as the spell has levels. If you don’t have enough dice you can’t cast the spell. Any die that comes up a 1 is burned out for the day. You could add mishap rules based on what was rolled total, how many 1’s, how many doubles etc etc.

    A similar way would be to give the caster 1d6 per level (or per odd level). They choose how many dice to roll, but any 1 is burned out, and there must be enough non-burned out dice or the spell is not cast. This would encourage wizards to roll extra dice (which is why I changed it to a d6).

    You could easily add meta-magic to this by requiring more non-burned out dice or making them roll more dice which should burn more out.

    Counter spelling could be done in the d6 system by letting the counter spelling mage roll as many of their dice as they want. 6’s burn out opponents dice, 1’s burn out their dice. This might make wizard duel burn out mages really quick.

    This would obviously feel a lot different than the current system.

    1. A bit different sure, but very intriguing. I think you just might be on to something Michael. You should play test this and see how well it works.

  3. Unfortunately I don’t have a play group now (been many years). I plan on thinking about it some more, and if I ever get a group I will try it out.

    Are you still using your home brew rules? One thing I have always wondered about using spell points would be how many to give. A straight translation of the spell per day table would result in a ton of spells. How is your stat bonus + 1 per level working out?

    1. Yup, still using the house rules. At the moment they are working fairly well. I allow the spell points to refresh at a rate of 1 per hour, and this generally means that by the end of the adventuring day there are enough SP left over for a couple more heal spells to patch people up, but not much more than that

      That said, my players are only 3rd level;, and these rules haven’t been tested on higher level parties, so the jury is still out.

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