Feb 4 14 4:10 PM

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I share with you all a variant spellcasting system that I am sure relates to our experience with the RTS and MMORPG as WoWRPG gamers, the Strain/Mana System, of the Blackfang System as I came to call it. Very easily adopted in-game, it can be done quite quickly, and the rules internal consistency make this a rule almost a must-try. The Spell Points system I found in the Magus’ Rogue website is pretty much the Unearthed Arcana system, as well as one in the EMM&M, were difficult to adopt, clunky and pretty much broken. This system, however, is not.
Text in red is the original rules in the D&DWIKI, Link here:

Additions in black are from yours truly.

Many attempts have been made to produce a good point-based casting system, and every one of them has failed miserably, all because of the same basic design flaw: a linear - or even exponential - increase of casting cost for higher-level spells. It may seem like common sense because everybody's doing it, but in this case, everybody's wrong.
Increasing spell cost with level required casters to have absurd amounts of spell points at high levels, which in turn allows them to cast their most powerful spells way too often at the expense of lower-level spells. This can be fixed partially by charging casters for augmentation (like in the Expanded Psionics Handbook), but it requires an unreasonable amount of work and makes the system incompatible with additional material.
So what is the solution, you ask? Quite simple, really. Instead of making casting cost go up with spell level, make it go down with caster level. Yeah, that's the entire system in a nutshell.
In this system, you gain a pool of mana points, use it when you cast a spell, and when you’re out of mana, you could force yourself to cast with a penalty for failure. You can recover mana by several ways, and you don’t lose a spell once you cast it. As long as you have mana left, cast away by all means.
Mana: You have a pool of this. Casting spells drains from the pool.
Strain Tolerance: This is mana by a different name. Instead of counting mana down, casters accumulate strain points, and have a limit on how many they can accumulate. This is a purely cosmetic change -- people, generally, have an easier and faster time using addition (counting strain up from 0 to an upper bound) than subtraction (counting mana down to 0 from a pool) -- this can easily be inverted with no mechanical change.
Mana/Strain Cost: This table shows us the mana or strain cost (the costs are identical) of each spell. As you can see, the cost increases slightly with spell level (duh) but decreases with caster level - this is the most important feature of the system, the concept that finally made mana-based casting a real and balanced option.
The Rules
From here on out, the rules are described in terms of strain instead of mana, due to addition being a faster mental process than subtraction. All rules that are not specified (such as the difficulty classes of spells) are the same as in the core rules.

Strain Tolerance
Your strain tolerance is equal to your primary casting stat (the actual stat, not the stat modifier). For classes that have more than one casting stat (such as the Favored Soul), your strain tolerance is equal to the stat that would normally grant you bonus spells per day. You also gain additional Strain Tolerance equal to ½ your level in spellcasting classes and prestige classes that add to your caster level.

Let’s introduce our spellcasters for the evening. Viridel Dawnblade, a (High Elf Mage(APG))5, Sally Sutherland, (Human Mage(APG))12, Yorrik Graveborn, Forsaken Witch Doctor (Apothecary(HPG)) 6, and finally Mor’goth Darktower, (Orc Warlock EMM&M)3.
For each of them, assuming their spellcasting attributes are the same (Viridel, Sally and Mor’Goth’s intelligence being 16 and Yorrik having 16 spirit), they will have their respective mana pools / strain thresholds of 18, 22, 19, and 17. Mana does not scale to sky-scraper levels, but the system shies away from large numbers, and reduces costs instead of inflating the pool.

Casting a Spell
When a mana-based spellcaster casts a spell, she has to channel a portion of the mana she is using through her own body. This is taxing both physically and mentally, and is the basic limiting factor that determines how many spells a mage can cast without resting. Every spell has a Strain Cost, which depends on the level of the spell and the level of the spellcaster, as shown on the tables below. At high class levels, some spells have no Strain Cost, and this is fine - a powerful spellcaster can cast basic spells all day long.
Whenever a spellcaster casts a spell, she suffers Strain equal to the spell's Strain Cost. As she casts more spells, the Strain accumulates. As long as the total Strain a spellcaster has accumulated is lower than her Strain Tolerance, a spellcaster suffers no ill effect. Continuing to cast spells once her Strain is over her Tolerance, however, is extremely taxing on a spellcaster's body and mind.
As soon as a spellcaster's total Strain exceeds her Tolerance, she becomes fatigued (even if she is normally immune to this condition; this is fatigue of the mind, not the body). If a fatigued spellcaster wishes to cast another spell, she must first make a Fortitude save with a DC equal to (20 + the spell's level + the amount of Strain she has over her Tolerance). If the save is successful, the spellcaster casts the spell as normal. If the save is failed, the spell fizzles with no effect and the spellcaster becomes exhausted (even if she is normally immune to this condition). An exhausted spellcaster may not cast any more spells. A spellcaster ceases to be exhausted after an hour of complete rest.
If the spell is cast by a class that would normally ready spells every day, the "readied spell" is not forgotten and can be cast again, as long as the spellcaster has the available Strain to do so.
Table: Mage Strain Costs

Level Strain Cost
0th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th

Recovering Strain
A spellcaster loses Strain equal to ½ her character level, minimum 1 (but never more than her casting stat modifier) per hour if she does not cast spells, fight, run, or otherwise exert herself. A spellcaster who is fatigued due to excess Strain ceases to be fatigued as soon as her total Strain is no longer over her Tolerance. However, a spellcaster does not recover Strain while exhausted.
A spellcaster recovers from Strain much faster when she rests. A full 8 hours of rest completely removes all Strain/recovers all Mana.

Combat Scenario: Viridel squares off with Yorrik.
After Initiative is rolled, Yorrik goes first, and, with Yorrik being a apothecary, and a Forsaken at that, he ‘educates’ Viridel on the nature of life and death by casting Death Coil on him. The spell is at third level, which costs Yorrik 7 mana, leaving him with 10.
Viridel makes his save for half damage, and then in return casts Frost Bolt, which costs him 8 mana out of his total 18, leaving him with the same as his adversary.
The battle goes on with a few rounds, leaving the combatants increasingly fatigued, before Viridel hits 0 mana first. He makes a fortitude save to cast Burning Hands, with a DC of (20+1+5), a tall order for an elf mage, surely, but he manages to crit, and with his bonus of +6, he manages to cast the spell, leaving him with -5 mana. If he tried to cast burning hands again, his DC will be 31 instead of 26. After combat is over, Yorrik and Viridel both recover mana after combat by a rate equal to 3 per hour, according to the rule above.

Changing Recovery Mechanics
This system has been designed so that the recovery mechanic can very easily be changed to suit your needs of your game. As written here, the system covers fatigue-based casting, recharge magic and, finally, a full recovery on rest for those who still believe in the 4-encounter work day. I expect most people to use the system exactly as written, but it has been engineered to be easy to add and remove these or other components to provide the recovery mechanic you want for your own game.
For an example let's say you don't like the recharge component as written, which allows you to recharge more strain and cast more of your higher-level spells as your caster level goes up. I believe this to be a good feature, but some will dislike the power curve it introduces to mages. To change this to better suit your needs, you can remove the current recharge mechanic and replace it with the following: You recover one-quarter your total strain every hour (but never more than your casting stat modifier). This divorces caster level from recovery and thus guarantees that a high-level spellcaster can't cast more of his top-level spells in a day than a low-level spellcaster can.

Special Considerations
Playing a RPG in the Warcraft universe, we players have a lot of options to incorporate when taking this system to play. There are special class abilities (as the Weave Energy ability for Human Mage Racial Iconic), spells (Mana Burn, Brilliance Aura), feats (Spellbreaker, Brilliant Leadership), a prestige class’s main ability (Archmage of the Kirin Tor), items (Mana Draught, artifacts), and even world doodads (mana fountain) and in-game concepts that function equally as good with the mana system as they would in the RTS, or with the spell slot system.
Of course, this system is more in-tune with in-game fluff and how magic is handled in the stories (though they rarely reference mana, they do, however, mention how straining it is on the body).
To do my part in this, I have done some conversion work on some of the changeable aspects.
General Rulings:
1-    Bonus spell slots, such as what the Focused Mage, Argent Dawn Templar’s Blessed Revelation and Plageshifter’s Enhanced Power (as others as well) translate to bonus mana. The amount is a neutral +4 to the mana pool.
2-    As the making of some items consumes spell slots, the mana drain from the spell level is cost enough.
3-    Domain abilities like Flash Heal or Metamagic abilities that increase the spell’s level simply increase the cost according to the mana cost chart above.
4-    Domain spells or favored school abilities lower the mana cost of respective spells by 1 mana point.
5-    Concentration effects that, if failing the check, lose the spell slot without effect simply consume the mana required without producing the spell in question.
6-    After being a target to Raise Dead spell and having mana, the spellcaster’s remaining mana pool is half amount. Touch of Life (or True Resurrection in 3.5), of course, restores mana.
7-    Counterspell consumes mana to negate the enemy’s spell. Counterspell rules play as usual.
8-    As the case with Spell-like abilities in the normal game, there is no mana cost for spell-like abilities generally.
9-    With multiclass spell slots, you must calculate mana from different spell origins (Arcane, Divine) separately. For example, a Necromancer4/Priest5 with 15 Int and 17 Wis has an arcane mana pool of 17, and a divine mana pool of 19. An arcanist who is a mage4/necromancer5 has the same amount as they would if they were mage9 or necromancer9.
10-    Purchasing abilities, like the Archmage of the Kirin Tor’s High Arcana, Death Lord’s Dark Arcana, the Warlock’s Fel Companion, and others that require sacrifice of a spell slot, what happens instead is that they sacrifice or ‘freeze’ a mana investment equal to half the mana cost for the spell slot in question, and do not regain it until they abandon the ability/summon/companion (or High Arcana, etc). The ability can be cheaper in cost according to the mana cost table, as a Warlock5 who uses 4 mana to call a Voidwalker may find that since reaching level 14, calling a Voidwalker costs only 1 mana at his newer level. Normal summoning as with Summon Monster/Nature's Ally work normally.
11-    When it comes to artifacts or items granting spell levels (Finkle’s Hammer giving you a 4th level spell slot), take the general rule for 1 mana per spell level. I.E. Mana armor enchantment, if it grants you a 4th level spell slot, count is as +4 to your mana pool.

Changes in Class Abilities
Archmage of the Kirin Tor: High Arcana: I am of the general opinion that once you purchase an ability, you hold the amount of mana of purchase as ‘Mana Freeze’, or mana that cannot be recovered or used while the ability is there. For example, if Viridel chose to enter this prestige class and purchase Master of Energies with a 8th rank slot at level 17, he permanently freezes 4 mana in reserve (as half of the original cost of 8), with it being unable to be cast from.
Argent Dawn Templar: Holy Shock: As Smite above, it deals damage equal to 1d6 of the spell level, or mana cost, you consume to cast the spell, plus 1d6 per Argent Dawn Templar level. Thus, the ability Holy Shock can vary in damage per invested mana.
Aspect Warlock: Aspect of the Felhunter: Upon countering a spell, the target loses a number of mana points equal to the spell level lost.
High Elf Mage: Arcane Legacy: The bonus to intelligence to determine bonus spell slots serves under the above rule, giving them a bonus of +4 to their mana pool.
Human Mage: Weave Energy: The spellcaster weaves lower-costing spells for the same effect as a higher one. This ability is mainly a way to cast more with less. With Sally Sutherland, she can cast a 6th level spell slot with a the mana cost of a spell lower than the original by up to her intelligence modifier.
That sounded messy. She can, with her intelligence modifier being 4, cast a 6th level spell with the cost of a 2nd level spell, or 2 mana, instead of 8 mana, a number of times per day equal to her INT modifier.
Hunter: Call Companion: Simply use up mana as per Priest's Smite rules (see below)
Lay Walker: Lay Walking: Spontaneous spellcasting follows the same rules as if one casted them normally.
Orc Warlock: Fel Bolt: Same as Holy Shock above.
Paladin: Lay on Hands: 2 hit points for each mana point seems fair. Of course, with the mana system one can recover the mana used sooner since there is no internal timer of once per day. Theoretically, a paladin can cast the spell, drink a draught or from a mana fountain, and try again.
Priest: Smite: The consumption of the spell slots ties simply into the mana pool and circumvents the idea of a spell slot cost. A 5th level priest casting Smite uses 8 mana to activate Smite.
Priest: Empower Turning: Same as Smite above, consume mana equal to the spell slot.
Rune Knight: Contained Power: Consumes mana as per Smite rules above.
Shaman: Flametongue/Frostbrand/Elemental Combat: As Smite Rules above. The consumption of the spell slots ties simply into the mana pool and circumvents the idea of a spell slot cost. A 5th level shaman casting Flametongue will consume 5 mana to cast the enhancement. A 5th level shaman using EMM&M rules to cast the fire version of Elemental Combat gains 3d6 fire for 8 mana.
Shadow Hunter: Healing Wave: Functions as Holy Shock/Purchased Abilities above. You specify the spell level every day you wish the ability to scale with, and hold the mana as reserve.
Warlock: Fel Companion: Summoning a fel companion requires an investment of mana equal of the spell slot mentioned in the normal rules. I.E, a warlock5 who summons a Voidwalker uses one-half the mana cost that equals a 3rd level spell, which is 4 mana, and keeps it in reserve.

Changes to Monster Abilities:
Baron Geddon: Ignite Mana: Functions as Mana Burn (Caster Level 40), cast once per round until dispelled or until the target has no mana left.
Ignite Mana (Su): As a standard action, Baron Geddon may target any creature within 100 feet with this effect. The victim must make a DC 32 Will save or lose 2d4 of his lowest-level spell slots. He loses 2d4 of his lowest-level spell slots each round thereafter. The effect continues until dispelled (caster level 40th) or until the victim is out of spell slots. In addition, the victim takes 1d4 points of damage per level of the spell slots lost. (Losing a 3rd-level spell slot deals 3d4 points of damage.) The save DC is Charisma- based.

Mana Surge: Mana Drain: Functions as Mana Burn, except the caster heals 1 point for every mana point burned instead of dealing 1d4 per mana burned.

Lich: Cold Aura: When it comes to the Cold Aura, the lich can spend up to 2 mana to increase the range of their aura by 5 ft. or damage by 1d6. This mana consumption stays until the end of their next turn.
Example: Kel’Thuzad uses up 6 mana (out of his arcane pool of 51 mana), to make his aura reach 10 ft. and deal 3d6 cold damage.
Cold Aura (Su): A freezing aura surrounds the lich. Creatures within 5 feet take 1d6 points of cold damage per round (half on a successful Will save). As a standard action, a lich can increase the power of its cold aura by spending a spell slot. For each level of the spell slot, the lich can either increase the aura’s radius by 5 feet or increase its damage by 1d6. These changes last until the lich’s next turn: Creatures within the aura take damage on their turn (not on the lich’s).

Lord Kazzak: Mark of Kazzak: The Mark of Kazzak, upon failure functions as a Mana Burn (Caster Level equal to Kazzak’s HD), taking the same damage as Mana Burn would. Should a spellcaster be Mana Burned into lower than 0 mana by the Mark, they are slain instantly (no save) and explodes in a flash of shadow energy, dealing 6d6 points of bludgeoning damage to all creatures within 10 feet (no save).
Mark of Kazzak (Su): Each round at the beginning of Kazzak’s turn, every non-demon spellcaster within 100 feet of him must make a DC 29 Will save or be afflicted by the mark of Kazzak, a magical connection to shadow that drains and dissipates magical power. Every time an affected character fails her save, she loses spell slots (of her choice) totaling 1d4+5 spell levels and takes fel damage equal to the number of spell levels lost; she loses her highest-level spell slots first. Should a creature with spellcasting ability lose
more spell levels than she has remaining, she is slain instantly (no save) and explodes in a flash of shadow energy, dealing 6d6 points of bludgeoning damage to all creatures within 10 feet (no save).

Obsidian Statues: Spirit Touch: Functions as the spell Spirit Touch, but once to each spellcaster in a 30-foot radius. One can take advantage of the Spirit Touch once per day
Spirit Touch (Su): An obsidian statue radiates a powerful aura in a 30-foot radius that bestows one additional spell slot to all spellcasting allies within the area of effect. The spell slot is the highest level spell that the ally is capable of casting. Creatures affected in such a manner lose this benefit as soon as they step outside the radius. They may take advantage of the obsidian statue’s spirit touch only once each day (they do not regain the spell slot if they reenter the radius). Spirit touches from multiple obsidian statues stack.

Changes to Feats:
Brilliant Leadership: Your followers gain bonus mana equal to the spell level of the highest-level spell slot available to you.
Deflect Spell: You spend mana equal to the level of the spell the opponent cast to deflect it.
Double Totem: Use double mana for a single totem summon.
Feedback: Deals 1d4 damage per mana point burnt by the Spellbreaker feat.
Gnomish Techno-magic: Instead of casting the spell, you use up mana equal to the spell level.
Improved Spell Capacity: Grants the person a permanent bonus of +4 to their mana.
Reflect Spell: Same as Deflect Spell above.
Spellbreaker: You deal 1 point of mana damage for every 2 points of melee damage you deal, up to a limit equal to the ranks you have in Spellcraft.

Changes to Spells:
Absorb Mana: You gain 1 mana for each 2 points received from the target.
Blessing of Wisdom: While within the aura limit of the Blessing, the target regains mana as per Brilliance Aura, at the rate of 1 mana per round.
Brilliance Aura/Mana Spring Totem: Restore 1 mana per round for friendly spellcasters.
(Note: Due to their similarities, I opted to lower Brilliance Aura to level 6 as the Mana Spring Totem)
Conjure Mana Water/Gem: The spell simply creates a gem that holds enough mana in it equal to the spell level that it cost to create.
(Note: Due to spells like Create Mana Water/Gems eventually becoming cheaper due to increased caster level, one could rule that you cannot gain mana from nothing. I.E. Sally Sutherland cannot cast Conjure Lesser Mana Water (level 2, costing her 2 mana at level 12) and benefit from it when she becomes level 19, which would provide her with 2 mana for no investment at all.
Detonate Mana: Functions as Mana Burn, but with a burn of 5d6 + 1 for every three caster levels (Maximum +8), dealing 1d6 for each mana point lost in a 30 ft. radius.
Drain Mana: Functions as Siphon Mana above.
Enervation: See Negative Level condition.
Evocation: Restores 2d8 Mana points.
Innervate: Functions as Evocation, instead of being delayed for a round and for less mana.
Life Tap: Provides 1 mana for every 4 points of hit point drained, effectively a quasi-reverse of the Mana Shield basic concept.
Mana Burn: Burns up to 1d4 mana, + 1 per three caster levels (maximum +6)  from the target, dealing 1d4 damage per mana point burned.
Mana Tide Totem: As Mana Spring, but 2 mana per round for friendly spellcasters.
Mana Shield: Works like Spellbreaker in reverse; one point of mana shields from 2 points of damage per point of mana.
Mind Rot: Target loses mana equal to 1d6 + 1 for every three caster levels (maximum +6).
Nightmare: Target cannot regain mana for 24 hours.
Searing Arrows: Instead of it being a ‘buff’ that enchants arrows, they are enhancements as Flametongue/Frostbrand, costing what is equal to a 2nd level spell slot for each shot. This makes them more costly at the beginning, almost free on later levels.
Siphon Mana: The spell functions as an enemy-targeted Absorb Mana, trading in a 2-for-1 point mana exchange, with 4 points being lost per round, with 2 being siphoned by the caster.
(Note: With Siphon Mana classified under 3.5 rules (Classified as Sor5/Wis5 spell) and Drain Mana under WoWRPG rules (Warlock5), I am not sure whether or not this means I should add Drain Mana to the Arcanist Spell list to reflect this. This way, Drain Mana is not warlock-specific, though it seems like EMM&M, a fan sourcebook is more loyal to the game design than M&M, an official sourcebook.)
Spirit Touch: Restores 1d6 + 1 for every three levels (maximum +6) mana to a target.
Viper Sting: Deals 1d2 points of mana damage per round per caster level, up to a maximum total of 10d2 over the duration.

Changes to Items:
Mana Draught: Mana restored scales directly with spell slots restored by a 1:1 margin.
Lesser Mana Draught: This dark blue liquid grants its consumer 4 levels of spell slots Mana points. Draught; Craft (alchemy) 11 ranks, Artisan Alchemist; Price 330 gp.
Rejuvenation Draught: Mana restored scales as per Mana Draught.
Mana Burst Enchantment: You regain mana on a successful critical hit equal to one-fifth of the damage dealt, effectively working as a reverse Spellbreaker feat.
Ring of Rumination: As per the general rule concerning spell slots, you regain 1 mana once per day.
Crown of the Dreadlord: Instead of giving you an additional necromancy spell slot for each spell level you have, it gives you bonus mana equal to the highest-level necromancy slot you have available.
Dreamless Sleep Elixir: Restores 5 mana, as well as what else it does.
Recall Enchantment: Keeps a reserve of 1 mana per spell level provided, which could be drawn upon once per day.
Mana Enchantment: Gives a static mana increase equal to the spell level.

Power Sites:
Mana Fountain: Restores 1d4 mana per hour drinking. You cannot gain the benefits for the mana fountain more than once per hour. You can optionally vial the waters in a special container to make the effect mobile, though the restoration effect is subject to the internal cooldown of one hour. You can still use the 1d4 mana points to restore an ability as per the EMM&M rules (page 132).

Negative Levels: Just as negative levels reduce your current and maximum hit points, they also reduce your current mana, by a value equal to hit points lost from the negative level: 5 mana per negative level.
With the scaling value, it seems as that negative levels are more punishing for spellcasters than non-spellcasters, which sounds quite appropriate; energy drain is taxing physically and mentally, spellcasting more so.

Suggested Feats:
Since feats like Versatile Spellcaster deal explicitly with Spell slots, I have opted to remove them or handle them as the Weave Energy mechanic, by simply making the spell cost the same as a lower-level spell.
Feats like Improved Spellcasting Capacity serve as bonus mana, which makes a feat such as this quite acceptable in these rules:

Arcane Fortitude
They said you tire quickly. I never get tired.
Benefit: You gain +4 to your Fortitude save when forcing a spell without mana. You are also not fatigued when your mana pool is empty (Negative mana still fatigues you, and forcing mana and failing still exhausts you).

Increased Mana Capacity
Casting spells does not exhaust you as quickly as it does lesser spellcasters.
Prerequisites: Ability to cast spells
Benefit: You gain +3 to your mana pool.