Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spell Points in Pathfinder

A couple years ago when Pathfinder was still young and new, I worked up a campaign setting called Enzada, the core theme of which was "nonwestern societies are dominant, and there are thousands of gods/pantheons." Since then it's evolved a great deal and I have run no less than four large campaigns and several small campaigns to's made a nice home on my shelf in the campaign section.

Once core conceit of the setting was a spell point mechanic, which I am reprinting here for those interested in how I do it. The principles work great with any edition of D&D, and I used this spell point system extensively back in my 2E AD&D days too.

The Pathfinder Enzada Campaign Spell Point System

   Magic users of Enzada do not memorize and then release spells; they cast them from engrained Patterns in memory, and kept safely in spell books. As such, all spell casters of the world can spontaneously cast any spells they have learned, provided they have the magic for it.

   Characters must keep track of spell points for orisons (and cantrips if necessary), standard spells, bonus spells (such as for domains) and spells for classes. Within a range, they gain spell points equal to the level of the spell they would normally memorize, plus bonus points by intelligence or their dominant trait. For example, a character who can memorize 4 1st level spells and 2 2nd level spells would have 8 spell points.

   Spells cost a number of points equal to the level of the spell being cast. So a 1st level spell costs 1 point, and a 9th level spell costs 9 points. Material components are still needed if required.

   Spell points are recovered at the rate of 1 point per 10 minutes of rest, or are fully recovered after a full night’s sleep. Morning rituals of preparation and renewal are required for vows, to study and aid in imagining the words, mandalas and gestures which activate the Patterns to cast spells, usually no more than one hour in length to do so. A spell caster who does not spend one hour a day refreshing his talents suffers a cumulative -10% spell failure chance per day.

Spell Points earned by Spell System
Main Attribute:    12-13: 1, 14-15: 3, 16-17: 6, 18-19: 10, 20-21: 14, 22-23: 19, 24-25: 25, 26-27: 32, 28-29: 40, 30-31: 49 

Spell Point Conversion for Classes
You gain spell points equal to slots times level. So a Level 1 spell slot grants 1 spell point, while a level 4 spell slot grants 4 spell points and so forth.

Cost of Spells in Points by Level:
Spells have a cost equal to the actual level of the spell.                      

Orisons and Cantrips

   Orisons and cantrips are cast with their own special spell point reserve equal to the number of orison spells normally memorized. These are kept separate from normal spell points, although one orison point is worth one quarter of a normal spell point, and a GM may allow conversion between the two if desired. Under this mechanic, all orison/cantrip points are replenished with a short (ten minute) rest.

Spells with Other Uses

   If you have spells from a domain or other source that allow X number of uses per day, you can optionally convert those number of uses to spell points by multiplying the total by spell level. I personally do not allow such conversion, keeping those special exception spells as they are, however.


  1. I like it. Very straight forward and easy to use. The part about the separate cantrip/orison points is slightly fiddly but probably necessary. Why that particular progression for the extra points for attribute bonuses?

    1. The spell point bonus for attribute should equal the spell point equivalent to bonus spell slots granted by attribute score....but I may have to double-check the math. The other way to describe it is to simply total the spell points for each bonus slot by granted level, and there you have it. The oddity about this method is it means you could start with a lot of spell points you don't gain through the normal method except by leveling (i.e. a INT 143 wizard gains access to a level 1 and later a level 2 spell slot as he advances; but under this method he just starts right off with 3 SPs). I've handled this both ways, depending on group; players with more tactical sense for magic work better if they gain spell points at the appropriate level-equivalent stage, but more relaxed non-tactical gamers are fine if they get the SPs front-loaded.

  2. I think somewhere along the way, Orisons and Cantrips in Pathfinder were switched to unlimited castings.

    How did you modify metamagic feats, if at all? Suppose they could just be added to a spell, costing the equivalent spell points as the spell level adjustment.

    1. I balance the orisons/cantrips by making them cheaper and easier to recover their own special set of spell points for....but in truth its just as effective to let them remain "at will" zero-cost spells.

      On metamagic feats, the idea is that you can let the spell cost the level-equivalent of the higher level spell slot to ready/cast.

  3. It's interesting and very tidy, but I'm a bit concerned about the balance. One of the main reasons that 2 first-level spells are worse than a second-level spell - even when you're comparing apples and apples, like the "Cure various Wounds" series - is that the higher-level spell takes one action compared to two.

    On top of that, the inflexible spell slot system acts as a restraint on casters. Having exactly the spell you need is a significant boost! But perhaps you address this in other house rules.

    1. I would characterize the balance in this system as heavily group-dependent. I do not use this system with my regular Wednesday gang, for example, because they already have the char-gen optimization minigame down to a fine art, and a spell point mechanic like this would be brutal in their hands. My Saturday group, which would have trouble understanding why "toughness" in 3rd edition was considered a trap feat, works very well with this system because they fundamentally play the game differently, with a more measured pace and often with characters that are subpar by other standards.

      This system was actually extremely effective in my 2nd edition days, because I also rigorously applied the casting times, compnent requirements and other more rigorous expectations of 1st//2nd edition to the process. One of the reasons I feel magic in 3rd edition and onward got out of whack was because these features which served as an excellent way to level the power vs. difficulty casting were dropped in favor of a more expedient but ultimately more powerful magic system.

      Another useful balance is to also insure that all NPCs and monsters also use the SP mechanic. It changes the dynamic quite a bit.