Classical magic

This is not a “replacement” for the current system of magic. It’s a complement, a part of the history of magic in the World of Highland.

The current AD&D system of magic is mnemonic magic. Mnemonic wizards and clerics impress spells upon their minds using a system of mnemonics (see the Dungeon Masters Guide, page 40). These spells are later loosed and forgotten. This form of magic, for reasons I will discuss later, is the standard form of magic across most of the AD&D worlds and planes. The system of magic I am presenting here is classical magic. In this system, mages do not forget spells upon casting. Because classical mages must store so much information, they have certain limitations on spell learning.

Spell Point Cost

In classical magic, three factors affect spell cost. These are spell level, level of effect, and type of magic. Spells have a cost modifier based on the type of magic, as given below:

Type of MagicCost Modifier
Greater Divination25-054343
Lesser Divination256054343

If the spell consists of multiple types of magic, use the cost modifier of the most expensive type. If you are using this system in First Edition AD&D, there is another spell type—possession. Treat it as a Necromantic Spell.

The cost in spell points is determined by adding the level of effect to the cost modifier, and multiplying this by spell level. Another way of thinking of this is to say that each spell has a base cost of spell level times cost modifier. To the base cost, add spell level times level of effect. The level of effect cannot be less than the minimum level required to cast the spell. It can, however, be less than the caster’s current level. A seventh level wizard can (and probably will) cast Charm Person at the first level of effect. The same caster is limited to levels five, six, and seven when casting Secret Page—the caster must be at least fifth level to use that spell.

Spell points do not power the actual spell. Gary Gygax (First Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, page 40) has explained why this is impossible. Spell points measure the amount of energy needed, first, to open a hole to the other plane where spell energies come from and then to shape the energy into the desired spell.

Methods of Determining Spell Point Cost:

  1. (Level of Effect + Cost Modifier) * Spell Level
  2. Base Cost + (Spell Level * Level of Effect), where Base Cost = Spell Level * Cost Modifier

Both of these methods result in the same cost.

Regaining Spell Points:

Physical ActivityPoints Recovered
combat/hard work/exercisenone
walking/riding1 point per 2 hours
sitting and talking/reading1 point per hour
resting/meditating1 point per 30 minutes
sleeping1 point per 15 minutes

Casting Time:

Casting Time for all classical magic is the casting time given in the spell description, times two. This is because the classical spell caster actually casts spells in a different manner than mnemonic spell casters. Mnemonic spell casters do part of the work of casting a spell when they memorize the spell. Classical spell casters do almost all the work upon casting.


Scrolls developed during the attempt to find a way to impress spells. They are related to spell books, which can also be used as somewhat inferior scrolls. Because of this, spell scrolls are more suited for mnemonic spell casters. Classical wizards can use spell scrolls. They are simply not as good at it as their mnemonic counterparts: add 4 to the scroll’s level to determine the chance of failure; in any case, the minimum chance of failure is as if the scroll is four levels too high. Remember that for wizards to use a spell scroll, they must have cast Read Magic on it (see the Dungeon Masters Guide, page 145).

Why Classical Wizardry?

Classical wizards study spells in a way which allows wizards to cast spells without forgetting them. Classical wizardry was the first form of wizardry. Mnemonic wizardry developed from it as an attempt to bypass the immense cost of higher level spells, especially evocations, enchantments/charms, conjurations/summonings, and necromancies.

Since the mnemonic wizard can memorize nearly the same number of spells that the classical wizard can learn, the advantages of mnemonic magic for the non-adventuring wizard are obvious: nearly unlimited selection of spells, maximum level of effect whenever desired, and a faster casting time. The ability to use scrolls more effectively is an added bonus.

To the adventuring wizard those advantages are offset by other factors: the necessity of carrying spell books everywhere and the necessity of finding time to sleep and impress spells whenever a new spell is needed. For adventuring wizards, the choice of mnemonic or classical wizardry depends more on the wizard’s preference than on any advantages or disadvantages.

Mnemonic wizardry is the standard today because non-adventuring wizards far outnumber adventuring wizards. Most wizards prefer to stay at home and study than to go out and risk their lives daily. Even for adventuring wizards, classical magic offers no great bonus. Thus, the number of classical wizards declined drastically once mnemonic wizardry was introduced. This made it that much harder for a student to find a classical teacher. For this reason there are very few, if any, classical wizards on most worlds. One would be hard-pressed indeed to find a classical wizard on Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, so far has magic evolved.

Where Can Classical Magic Exist?

Classical magic is most likely to exist in out of the way places where the new magic hasn’t spread. Witch doctors are likely to use classical magic. In primitive societies, the knowledge of magic is mostly an oral tradition, and little writing exists. This limits the witch doctor to knowing only those spells which his or her teacher knows, what can be learned from other witch doctors in the area, and what can be researched by the witch doctor.

There may be a conclave of classical wizards in an older city, and if a campaign involves travel to other worlds, there may be worlds where the evolution from classical to mnemonic magic has not occurred.

Game Info for Classical Wizards


The classical wizard must have an intelligence of at least 13. If intelligence ever falls below that requirement, but remains at a score which allows the wizard to be a mnemonic wizard, the character can continue to cast spells previously learned. The wizard can no longer increase in level and cannot learn new spells. If intelligence drops below what is needed to cast a spell level (see the Player’s Handbook, p. 16), a saving throw vs. paralysis must be made for each spell of that level, or that spell is forgotten and must, if the character wishes to use it, be relearned. There is a penalty to the saving throw equal to the number of points the character’s intelligence is below the intelligence required for that spell level.

Even if the wizard does retain knowledge of the spell, it cannot be cast until the character regains the requisite intelligence.

Learning Spells:

Classical wizards use the information in the Player’s Handbook for everything except learning spells. They use the same experience point/level increase chart, and must still determine what spells they can know (see the Player’s Handbook, p. 16, table 4).

Spell Points:

Classical wizards gain d12 spell points per level. Intelligence modifies these die rolls as follows:

IntelligenceDie Roll Modification
20+5, no ones rolled
21+6, no ones rolled
22+6, no ones or twos
23+6, no ones, twos, threes
24+7, no ones, twos, threes
25+7, no ones, twos, threes, or fours

Player character classical wizards gains a minimum of 6 spell points from the first level die roll.

Spells Knowable and Time/Cost to Learn:

The first level classical wizard knows one first level spell, chosen from the list of first level spells the wizard can know. To learn new spells, the wizard must study the spell for a number of weeks equal to the level of the spell. The wizard will also end up paying spell level plus the spell’s cost modifier, times 50, gold pieces per week, for supplies and training.

A classical wizard with a 13 intelligence can know no more spells than a mnemonic wizard of the same level can memorize, plus cantrip. See the Player’s Handbook, page 30, table 21. Classical wizards of higher intelligence can learn more spells, as given on the next chart. If the character’s intelligence ever drops, these extra spells will be lost, and must be relearned when intelligence is restored. If the character is conscious when the intelligence drop occurs, the player chooses which spells are lost; otherwise, they are determined randomly.

IntelligenceBonus Spells Learnable (by Spell Level)

A fifth level classical wizard with a 13 intelligence can know up to one 3rd level spell, two 2nd level spells, four 1st level spells, and Cantrip. The same wizard with an 18 intelligence could know up to four 3rd level spells, six 2nd level spells, nine 1st level spells, and Cantrip.

Once a classical wizard learns a spell, it cannot simply be forgotten, unless it is not used or practiced for a number of months equal to the spell’s level.

Reversible Spells:

If a spell is reversible (i.e. stone to flesh/flesh to stone, et. al.), the classical wizard can cast both versions of the spell, whether or not mnemonic wizards can choose which version is cast on casting or at memorization. The spell is the same—it takes up only one space in a mnemonic caster’s book. Therefore, it is learned as one spell and can be cast both ways.


Classical Wizards can specialize, in the same manner as mnemonic wizards (see the Player’s Handbook, page 31-32). The following are modifications to those rules:

  1. A classical specialist can know one additional spell per spell level, if this spell is from the specialist’s school. Thus, a 5th level Abjurer with a 13 intelligence could know 5 first level spells, 3 second level spells, and 2 third level spells. One spell from each of those spell levels, however, must be an Abjuration.
  2. A specialist who reaches a new spell level automatically has the ability to know one new spell from that level, from the specialist’s school. The DM may pick the spell, or the player may be allowed to choose it. The character must take the time to learn it, however this time is half normal and costs are minimal—1 GP per spell level.

Also, specialists reduce the cost modifier of spells from their school by 2. Spells from other schools have an increased cost modifier—add 1 to the cost modifier for each school between that school and the specialist’s school on the circle of schools. See the Player’s Handbook, page 31. This information is presented in the previous cost modifier table in this article, however, with the following abbreviations: Abj-Abjurer; Conj-Conjurer; Div-Diviner; Ench-Enchanter; Ill-Illusionist; Inv-Invoker; Nec-Necromancer; and Trans-Transmuter.

It takes specialists half the time to learn spells of their own school. It takes them longer to learn spells out of their school. Subtract the cost modifier of the school for the specialist from the cost modifier for a Mage. Add this to the spell’s level when determining time and cost to learn.