My Dirty Secret: I like D&D's magic system

David Johansen

New member
It's true, I the die hard d20 / D&D hating troll, actually like the magic system.

It's so arcane, there are rules and they don't make sense, that's very magical to my mind, magic doesn't bow to mere logic. The spells are often arcane, no shape fire, create fire, nothing so mundane here.

GURPS Magic is so pedestrian by comparison. Spell Law, well I love spell law, but it lacks the verve of Tasha's Hideous Uncontrollable Laughter or Tenser's Floating disk. Sword Bearer's magic, while technically excellent has the blandest spell list known to man. I haven't got the WHFRP Realms of Sorcery book yet, but the spells are dull in the main book, though I love the faustian nature of the thing. Nope, just give me spell books and memory slots, and funky wierd spells that require your character to eat a spider every time.

D&D's magic items and artifacts are often strange and unusual as well, though it seems that with every new edition, the basic items become more bland, common-place and simply reduced to their component features like +3 or flaming weapon.

I'll side note that I'm not always fond of how the magic interfaces with things like damage and that fireball is a perfect example of why having armour make you harder to hit leads to hitpoint inflation and by extention damage inflation. Because if I don't badmouth D&D somewhere in the post it'll make me twitchy and irritable for weeks.


Active member
Validated User

When I think about how it tends to work within a D&D game, I have to admit I like it too. Not that I'd want to just play games with that system - but there is something kind of arcane about the whole thing.

But I will admit, I tend to play D&D for cathartic powergaming, or for really silly reminiscence.:D


David Johansen

New member
I've been thinking about fantasy lately, Harry Potter and Narnia probably are to blame. I've been thinking about fantasy heartbreakers, and GURPS-Harry Potter compatible American school, even wrote up a chunk of a magic system I may eventually use somewhere.

And it has occurred to me that nothing does magic like D&D. Keep in mind that the other system features leave me cold. I think, perhaps it's because every other game, in being a reaction to D&D has been more rational, more flexible, and more mundane as a result (well C&S first edition might be an exception)

The thing is that I'm not happy with the state of modern fantasy. I can't find a thing I want to read. I don't want to play D&D and around here that pretty much means I don't game anymore. It's got me thinking very hard about what I think fantasy should look like, should feel like, and that brought me to admit that D&D does a pretty good job of getting the feel of magic right.

Captain Deadpool

I'm an assassi... Horse Trainer
Validated User
David Johansen said:
It's true, I the die hard d20 / D&D hating troll, actually like the magic system.
I can't believe you. For I too am a die hard d20 hating troll, and I hate it's magic system too. It's item #539 on my list of 32,909 things I hate about d20.



The Puncher Strikes!
Validated User
I've said the same thing about D&D's magic. It is the most "magic" feeling system out there, precisely because it can't be shoehorned into a logical framework. You can't break it down by "spell points" or an effect based system. Making a new spell is guided purely by gut feeling. And "Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter" is the greatest, creepiest spell name ever. Practically every other magic system I've ever read feels boring and mundane in comparison.

One of my great Quixotic quests is to design a magic system that conforms to what I think of as good game design, is constrained by actual rules (not "just whatever the GM feels like happening"), and still feels as truly "arcane" as D&D's system.


Fantasy Roleplayer
Like some but not all things in (older versions of) D&D, it's better than it looks.

From a game point of view it's got a lot going for it - especially if the DM gives the party good information about the adventure spell choice consitutes a significant resource allocation challenge.

From a fantasy point of view, it allows for total idiosyncrasy in the spell design, which is very important for the feeling of wonder you thirst for. You can pretty much make up anything you want, and all you really need to decide is who you want to be able to cast it at the end of the day, and assign a level accordingly.

So I agree.

David Johansen

New member
Simple Man said:
I can't believe you. For I too am a die hard d20 hating troll, and I hate it's magic system too. It's item #539 on my list of 32,909 things I hate about d20.

No worries, it's on my list of things I hate about D&D too.

I'm currently dabbling with a system underwhich distinct effects are individual spells and, for instance, to cast a death spell at a distance you'd need sympathetic links (hair, nail clippings, teddy bear) to cast the spell that would let you cast the death spell at a distance. Link that to fairly random levels of effect (he's only mostly dead...) and I think I might be approaching what I want. But even then Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter...Evard's Black Tentacles...The Whole Bigby's Hand thing...


Yokel Felon King
Validated User
I have sort of a love-hate relationship with it. I love most of the spells. I don't even mind the "number of spells per day" system rather than a "magic point" system.

What I dislike is that you have to memorize certain spells, and then rememorize them once cast. If you happen to need Cone of Cold and you didn't memorize it this morning, well, sucks to be you. I happen to prefer a system where when you know a spell, you know it (without the use of various feats, thank you), and can cast it at any time (assuming you have enough spells / MP left).

Of course, they may have changed that since 3.5 came out. And there's also sorcerers, but how dumb is a system where the number of spells they can cast is based on Charisma? What the hell sense does that make?


It was based mostly on Vance's works, in which spells are highly specific, often highly eccentric, and have wonderful names.

If you think about most classic fantasy tales, things are much the same. Arthur's sword has rather undefined magic powers, other than being a mighty weapon. It can apparently work the powerful magic of oaths. His scabbard protects him from all weapons.

In Sleeping Beauty, the sorceress uses some kind of weird, permanent duration sleep spell that requires a spinning needle as a trigger.

Aladdin has a flying... carpet.
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