The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

A New School Answer to Memorize-Cast-Forget

I find it funny to realize that something which seemed to be a permanent fixture is gone, and has been gone for some time. There was a time when playing D&D seemed to be almost synonymous with arguing over the mechanics of the spell system; it seemed in the 90s I couldn’t form a group that didn’t have at least one person who absolutely hated the idea of memorize-cast-forget.

Maybe this would help magic users.

Surely a big part of the death of this argument is the development of 3rd and 4th edition. In 3rd edition there were options to be a spellcaster that didn’t rely on this mechanic. In 4th edition spells that get cast once per day are but a small part of a wizard’s repertoire. Even though many players continue to play older editions, I suspect there are few old school gamers who really hate those mechanics; after all, why go old school if you don’t like it?

Spell Points Were Not a Balance Issue

When spell mechanics were a hot topic, I eventually came around to enacting a spell point system in place of memorize-cast-forget; it placated those who disliked the rules as written, and giving casters more flexibility never seemed to be a balance issue. But if flexibility is not a balance issue, then why not go one step further, and give casters an even greater flexibility?

That’s what I am aiming for today, a set of spell mechanics for old school game that makes makes magic users feel like guys who actually use magic, hopefully combining the best of 4E with what came before it. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play test these, they are just out of my head really.

Eliminating Memorization the 4E Way

This idea was basically based on the assumption that the longer a caster has access to a spell level, the less those spells affect game play, and therefore the less need there is to limit them.

Basically eliminate memorization – instead all spells are daily, encounter or at will based on their spell level. A caster can cast either one or two spells per day (depending or whether he just gained access to a new spell level, or gain access last level) from his highest available spell level; though never more than once per encounter. A caster can cast either one or two spells per encounter from his second highest available spell level (based on whether it just became his second highest spell level this level or last). Finally any spell that is two spell levels or more below the casters highest spell level is available at-will.

So if you had a 6th level magic user he could cast

  • As many cantrips and first level spells as he pleased.
  • Two second level spells in every encounter.
  • Two third level spells every day, though not more than once per encounter.

Using this system a caster could cast any spells he would normally have access to at any time, so long as he had the ability to cast spells of that level still available to him. It would lessen the need to track spells that have become largely mundane to the party. Finally, it would make clerics much more useful because they would not have to be always memorizing all healing spells.

The Potential for Abuse

Admittedly, I can already see the biggest impact this would have on games; as soon as Cure Light Wounds became an at-will spell you would have a very 4th edition like feel where the party would get totally healed up after every battle. This might even happen at first level if you are playing an edition with cure minor. But if its a concern there would be a simple fix; keep cure spells limited to the same numbers they have by the book rules. Its not ideal, but probably necessary if maintaining that old school feel is important to you.

Even with the aforementioned hiccup, I think this would bring the best of old and new spells together; the massive spells lists of old, with the cast as much as you like from new.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


November 9, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs, Rules Quirks | , ,


  1. Granted, while I used to be the house rule king, I don’t do it anymore. When you fix one thing, the ripple effect is felt elsewhere (as seen by your Cure Light Wounds issue).

    I actually like the idea of spell points, to be honest.

    Comment by Tourq | November 9, 2010 | Reply

    • To be honest I am very cautious about implementing house rules these days for the same reason, but I still like talking about ways rules can be tweaked.

      Comment by The Red DM | November 9, 2010 | Reply

  2. I actually came up with a solution on this myself, slightly similar but based off borrowing from different mechanical background than 4e.

    This game is still in Alpha, but if you sign up as a follower and send me a note, I will give you an Alpha copy of the PDF.

    Comment by Greg Christopher | November 9, 2010 | Reply

    • Not sure if I can be a follower with you being blogspot and me being wordpress, but your site looks interesting and I will be reading through it.

      Comment by The Red DM | November 9, 2010 | Reply

      • Drop me an e-mail to the address I used to make this post. I will shoot you an alpha copy.

        Comment by Greg Christopher | November 12, 2010

  3. Eh, the concept behind making people pick what they “might” use either limits their power within a category (combat) or their versatility. Everyone always -hated- the concept because you really had to think or you could potentially be totally sol in a given adventure. Remember this was the timeframe where a simple pit or stuck door could be semi-major obstacle.. so even those 1st and 2nd level spells had to be well chosen. You can get away with a lot more in later editions simple because everyone has so many abilities that giving those “at use” type powers that more trival spells are just simply that.. trivial. As long as there is some well designed systemic limitations, you can get away with pretty much anything you like really.

    I think the ability to convert any spell into a healing spell did a lot of good for clergy. Then again, the concept of memorization for them never really did make much sense to me, I always figured you would pray for a miracle when you needed it and happened.. not exactly something you need to “pre-load” earlier in the game.

    Comment by Grey | November 10, 2010 | Reply

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