[RPG] Why Does Spellcasting Have Levels


I was reading this question, and it occurred to me:

I don't know why the designers of 5e chose this magic system. There are a lot of spellcasting systems out there, and I want to know why they choose this one.

In 3.Xe you had spells levels, and a caster had a certain number of spells per spell level per day, plus your character seemed to only know a limited number of spells (because of being a sorcerer or having a limited spell-book). This system was a little complicated, but navigable.

In 4e, you had simply "at-will," "encounter," and "daily" spells. This system was wonderful for spells, because your rarely had any question as to if your spells were available or not. (Unless your DM was bad at saying when fights ended or began.) It made the spellcaster better at lower levels, despite the observation that "pretty much everyone feels like a spellcaster" in 4e.

Now, in 5e, it seems you have a certain number of casts per level per day, but spells of particular spell levels can be cast at their level or higher. Seems like a pretty simple system. I'm all for simplicity, especially when it makes magic more approachable and less… arcane.

Anyways, my question is: barring any surprises, and assuming the 5e basics and playtest are indicative of how magic will work in 5e, why is the 5e Magic System the way it is?

I'd also accept an answer to: why did the designers choose to make the magic system of 5e this way?

Best Answer

In these three Legend Lore articles Mike Mearls talks about the fact a major design goal of D&D 5e is to Unite the editions.Specifically allowing the core game to be modified to play similarly to one of the past editions of D&D.

Uniting the Editions

While not all mechanics were carried forward from past editions, vancian magic was one of them. Vancian magic in a modified form with at-will cantrips, prepared spells, and rituals. The most direct answer to your question magic is what it is because that how it was presented in OD&D, AD&D 1st, AD&D 2nd, and D&D 3rd. It was modified in light of the experience with D&D 3e and D&D 4e and for reasons outlined in this article.

I could leave the answer like this but I feel it not complete. Some will wonder why Vancian magic in the first place?

It started, like in many mechanics in OD&D, with Chainmail. By the 2nd edition of Chainmail, wizards of varying power were introduced in the fantasy supplement. The four levels were Magician, Warlock, Sorceror, and the most powerful the Wizard. The difference between the different levels was not only in the power of their spells but the number of times per day they could cast spells.

When Gygax developed his Greyhawk Campaign he decided not to use Dave Arneson's system of magic reagents but rather was inspired by Jack Vance's Dying Earth series to create the familiar mechanics of spells in a spell book and the magic-users memorizing a limited selection of spells from the book.

This is corroborated in both Jon Peterson's Playing at the World and Kent David Kelly's Hawk & Moor series.

The mechanics are designed in 5e to reflect the spell memorization of classic editions of D&D which were inspired by the literature that Gary Gygax read most importantly Jack Vance's Dying Earth which were adapted from the Fantasy supplement of Chainmail which was used by Dave Arneson in his Blackmoor campaign.

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