Monday, September 2, 2013

Query: Maximum Spell Number?

I'm still on vacation, so my time is short at the moment. I do plan on responding to the comments on the last couple posts, and I do intend to continue my "fighter love" series...probably when I'm back in Seattle. However, I'm working on a little "somethin'-somethin" at the moment and I"m looking for feedback from all my knowledgable readers:

What do you think is a good (maximum) number of spells to be cast by a single magic-user during a game session?

Now, in considering this, keep in mind that the "spells per day" in a normal D&D game can be anything from 1 to 60+ depending on the level of the character and the edition/system being used. But consider my question with the following caveats:

  • I'm talking about "one game session;" whether or not the character has all the spells in the world or is simply "refreshing himself" by heading back to town multiple times during the game session.
  • I am assuming the character is not "adventuring solo," but has a comparable group of fellow adventurers.
  • Forget about "attack spells" for the moment, except for maybe 2-3 "big bomb" types (sleep, fireball, etc.) that might be used...I don't want people considering the "infinity-use-ray-of-cold-cantrip" that's used every round of 5E as a spell. It's the same thing as throwing daggers or darts. Just give me "magical effects."
  • Add two or three extra to that maximum to take into consideration spells that might be tried but prove not to be useful. Sometimes a magic-user wastes a spell or two in the course of a game session and that's to be expected.
  • As with the attack cantrips, forget about detect magic spells and such...unless the spell is used once (like, at the end of the game session on a big pile of possibly-enchanted-items the party has uncovered).

Give me a number that would make a magic-user feel like he (or she) is pulling his weight without upstaging the rest of the party. I am assuming a double digit figure here, but you're welcome to surprise me. Consider the "game session" to be somewhere from 4-6 hours in length.

Thanks, folks!
: )


  1. 12 seems like a good number. 1 dozen eggs, 1 dozen spells. 12 is a culturally significant number, it's more than 10 but not by much. 12 hours of day and 12 of night. 12 is just short of 13, which would be pushing your luck. There's something vaguely Fibonacci about it too, 1 followed by 2. It's an even number and is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. 12 is the highest die roll on 3d4, 2d6 and 1d12.

    And it's 12.

  2. Character lvl x #of in-game days played through.

    or 13...

    Because it is unlucky, and for all the great reasons Marc gives above. I think magic should be somehow messy, unlucky and uneven.

  3. "Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures" has an interesting take on spells. Actually, the most interesting take on spells of any OSR game out there I have seen to date.

  4. As a wizard player, I try to stick to one really good spell per encounter, plus maybe three or so adventuring-time utility spells each day. Weird travel rituals like teleport, plane shift or water breathing go on top of that if required. I firmly believe that using more magic than absolutely necessary is wasteful and gauche, so they have to count when I cast them. That usually means spells that shut down or evade groups of enemies, change the terrain, summon allies, or worst-case scenario strengthen the fighter.

    I've always felt that lesser combat magics are generally a waste of my time. Fireballs are appropriate once in a very rare while. Magic missiles almost never are. The rest of my time goes to party support, the occasional wand or scroll, plus the biggest array of Home Alone traps and McGyver gimmicks I can fit in my pockets. If you have sorcerers or some variant, they can get away with throwing out spells every round, but those spells should be more numerous and a *lot* weaker than they usually are. You've simply got to excuse their lack of taste: there's not much else you can do for someone who was too lazy to learn serious wizardry.

    In my DM hat, I find that so long as wizards don't have the ability to whip off a new spell every combat round, you are okay. For dungeon adventures where you can't rest easily, I'd place the maximum limit somewhere around 12 or so. That limit gets tighter (I'd say 3-5ish) in settings where you can rest and only have one or two encounters per day, but I've been thinking lately about countering that by requiring a lab to prepare high-level spells.

  5. in my mind wizards are supposed to only use their magic to do stuff the other characters can't manage.

    considering the limits you impose i think around 10 spells/session might be an apropriate limit.

    you can add a few minor combat spells and cantrips if needed and any wizard player should feel useful.

    in a current campaign we have 2 wizards in a group of 5, and they didn't cast 10 spells between them (it wasn't d&d, they could have cast a lot! more) during most sessions.

  6. On occasion, I've used INT as a limiter. My formula was "total spell levels = INT + 1/level"

  7. If we are excluding combat except for encounter-changing spells like Fireball, I'd say around two spells per hour is reasonable. Add in your two to three spells for failed attempts and we're looking at around 10 or 11 for a four hour game.

  8. I’m not sure I can give a useful answer, because I think our assumptions are too different.

    I hate playing a game where it is assumed that at least a few spells will be wasted. If I’m casting a spell, I want to be 99% sure it is going to work.

    I’d expect the number of spells I cast in a session to be in the single-digits. I’m really aiming towards zero. If I’m resorting to magic a lot, that makes me feel like I’m not pulling my weight. I should be figuring out how to get things done without magic. Plus, I want to save as many resources for emergency situations as I can.

  9. Huh. Good answers from everyone.

    @ Robert: Well, it's not like a spell HAS to be wasted, but sometimes folks try a spell with an idea in mind and the idea doesn't pan out (i.e. doesn't progress the adventure) as was hoped by the caster.

    @ Everyone:

    For the most part I've had experience with two types of "wizardy" characters in D&D: the low-level magic-user and the high-level magic-user (the latter usually pre-generated for an adventure or campaign).

    The low-level magic-user has a tendency to complain that they don't have enough "options," they want to retreat from the dungeon because they're "out-of-spells," they lament that they feel "useless" in comparison to the other characters, and they skulk around in the back of the party, throwing daggers and acting "non-magical" for most of their first few levels.

    [at this point, I don't need negative opinions heaped on this style of play, I'm just telling you my general is what it is]

    At high levels, magic-users tend to be overwhelmed by the great breadth and depth of options available to them, or over-powering in the exercise of those options.

    I have a couple ideas I'm working on to make the magic-user feel like a more magical character, but I want a cut-off limit on the number of spells that the character would have access to...a maximum whether or not you're a lowly apprentice or a powerful wizard. Rather than having level determine spell number, level will determine availability of options (i.e. access to higher level spells) and effectiveness of casting those spells.

    Thanks for your help!

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