Monday, March 26, 2007

Real Magic Items: The Magic Item Compendium

So, despite not really being able to afford it, I picked up the Magic Item Compendium this past Friday from Dragon's Table. (...which apparently has a blog. Who knew?)

I haven't read through the entire thing in detail yet, but what I have read is pretty impressive. Here are some of my initial impressions:

New Item Types
(...which may have been in some supplement that I hadn't seen, but are new to me, at least)

Runestaff - The runestaff is a staff that has no charges. Instead, you spend spell levels to cast the spells in the staff. You can only be attuned to a single runestaff at a time so, while this is a great item for spontaneous spellcasters it isn't utterly gamebreaking and is also very nice for spellcasters who prepare spells, since they can take advantage of their flexibility more.

Augment Crystals
- Apparently, this is a Diablo II thing - little crystals that attach to weapons or armor and add magical effects. I have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, they are great for gameplay: you can have a minor magical weapon with a neat effect at low levels when you'd otherwise be wielding a masterwork or, maybe, +1 weapon. On the other hand, they seem like they'd change some assumptions about magic and the setting. If you're starting a new game, they are probably a good idea. If you are thinking about adding them into a game... it could work, but you might want to be careful (perhaps treat them as a new or lost technology).

Item Sets - The item sets are an awesome idea. They are sets of themed items (usually mostly clothing, but often including a rod or weapon) with cool, related powers. When you have more of them, you gain some additional synergistic powers. My one complaint? They put stupid limitations on the creation of these things. Why? These are the sort of flavorful magical items that I would want my players to think up...

New Charge Mechanics

There are a bunch of items that have a new (to me, at least) charge mechanic. These have a set number of charges (usually 3 or 5) that refresh every day. They can usually be spent individually for minor effects or together for more impressive effects. I should note that I am not a fan of uses per day items unless those items are actually keyed to a daily sort of thing (such as being single-use, but recharged at sunrise or something). I do think that I like these sorts of items, though. They have a flexibility that many magic items lack... and they involve player choice and do more than one thing, both of which are nice.


The Magic Item Compendium realizes that everyone wants certain items - things that provide bonuses to ability scores, armor class, and saving throws. It also, thankfully, realizes that gloves of dexterity and cloaks of resistance are not only bland, but they preclude the use of other items in those body slots (I sort of hate the body slot system as it is now, but that's a topic for another post). As a fix, the book suggests allowing players to add these sorts of bonuses to more interesting magic items, and it provides mechanics for doing so. So, yeah, now your Boots of Striding and Springing can also add a bonus to your dexterity. Rock.

Tables, Tables, Tables...

The end of the book is filled with tables that incorporate magic items from this book and the DM's Guide. Some of the tables are random treasure table type things. Others list items by price. They also have some sort of guide where items are categorized by 'level' - more or less the level at which those items could be expected to come into the hands of the PCs. The last one seems a bit iffy to me - the examples they gave didn't really match up with my preconceptions - but I also didn't look too closely at it.

The Verdict?

As I said, I haven't read through the whole thing yet, but if I were running a campaign right now, I think I'd consider this an essential book.

Friday, March 23, 2007

d20 Herbivores: Part IV


The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Steel Horse

Size/Type:Large Animal
Hit Dice:4d8+16 (34 hp)
Initiative: +0
Speed: 40 ft. (8 squares)
Armor Class:17 (-1 size, +8 natural), touch 9, flat-footed 17
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+12
Attack: hoof +7 melee (1d6+5)
Full Attack: 2 hooves +7 melee (1d6+5) and bite +2 melee (1d4+2)
Space/Reach:10 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: -
Special Qualities:Low-light vision
Saves:Fort +8, Ref +4, Will +2
Abilities: Str 20, Dex 11, Con 19, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 4
Skills:Listen 5, Spot 4
Feats: Endurance, Run
Environment: Temperate plains
Organization:herd (6-17)
Challenge Rating: 2
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 5-7 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment:

A steel horse could easily be mistaken for a normal heavy horse from a distance, though they are somewhat stockier and possessed of a shorter muzzle. their most noticeable difference, however, is their dull gray coat that is hard and sharp to the touch. Due to their heavy coats, steel horses are not as effective at carrying loads as one would expect from their high strength. They find riders uncomfortable, and the DC for training a steel horse as a mount is increased by two.


Steel horses are normally placid grazers, but are unpredictable in temperment and can become quickly aggressive if threatened. They seem almost empathetic with each other, and if a single steel horse is threatened, the entire herd is likely to turn quickly upon the threat.

Carrying Capacity

A light load for a steel horse is up to 200 pounds; a medium load, 201-400 pounds; and a heavy load, 401-600 pounds. A steel horse can drag 3,000 pounds.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

WoAdWriMo update

It looks like Swamp Castle might get put on the the backburner for a little bit in favor of a goblin-centric adventure that will serve as a lead-in to another project.

This isn't an abandonment of Swamp Castle... or WoAdWriMo. I hope that the new adventure will be a part of that... and if it gets finished before June, I may do both.

In other news, sorry about the lack of updates lately. I've been at a conference this week.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Random Encounters

So, Angela has been running this game in which I am playing a Dwarven chef. She has been making her own random encounter tables.

When I say random, I mean random.

Last night's random encounters included:

A guitar pinned to a tree with a rusty knife.
A field of strawberries.
An abnormally large (~1ft long) cicada.
A satyr walking down the road carrying a canary in a cage.

We ate the encounters that we could (strawberries and cicada), and ignored the others.

In part, I think that was due to the timing of the encounters. Each of them almost certainly (knowing Angela as a DM) has an interesting story/subplot attached to them, but the timing of them was a bit off. If we'd encountered the satyr on the way to the town we'd been visiting as opposed to when we were leaving the town and trying to catch up to someone, we probably would have chatted with him. Similarly, with the guitar - we might have investigated it as we tried to get our bearings in town. This was, I think, a problem with depending upon the dice to tell you when to have encounters rather than using individual judgment.

I don't think we were supposed to have eaten the cicada.

Also of note: we met a friendly worg (the worst guard dog ever) and a senile dragon, both of whom rocked.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Real Magic Items: why settle for banal visuals

I'm a little burnt out on Exalted right now, despite (or perhaps, in part, because of) the fact that I am playing in two occasional campaigns. Mostly it is the system that gets me down about it. I love the visuals.

It isn't the anime stuff. I can do without that. Instead, it is the simple fact that interesting visuals are important. Things in Exalted all have unique visual identities.

Here's an example. Once upon a time, I ran an Exalted game. I decided to create a messenger god (I named him Kelef) who would contact the PCs. I wanted him to make an impression that said (1) This 'messenger' is someone who is itself important, (2) This is a god and is not remotely human, and (3) This is someone who you will remember.

Kelef, The Lord Messenger: Kelef appears as a large, muscular man with skin of flowing, liquid gold. Instead of a human head and neck, a mighty falcon, whose wings are often outstretched and whose lower body seamlessly flows into the god's humanoid form, sits atop his shoulders. Kelef wears a heavy breastplate, upon which is a relief design of a warrior's face. The face upon the breastplate is itself animate, and it is through this that Kelef communicates with those who speak the tongues of man and god.

Magical items in Exalted are likewise weird and unique. In D&D, we're more likely to find magical items that are either visually indistinguishable from normal items or rather gaudy, covered in gems and such.

Why can't I have a cloud of mithral butterflies that surround me, acting as magical armor - or coalescing into a magical sword upon command?

Why can't my staff of the woodlands be a living branch that sprouts leaves on use?

Why does a robe of eyes appear to be a normal garment with scores of "eyelike patterns" on it? Why doesn't it actually appear to be made of beaded strands of eyes when in use? (In particular, when in use by that evil necromancer...)

Why is an Orb of Storms a glass sphere? Why isn't it an actual orb made of tiny storms?

Some of this is less concerned with item design and more focused upon aesthetic choices and GMing technique, but all of that contributes to the potential coolness of magic items.

It is easy to overdo this. You probably don't want your PC to look like a total freak. On the other hand, you generally do want your PC to look distinctive - and if you have a cool item, why not have it be cool-looking?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Real Magic Items: random babblings

I don't think I got on the 'real magic items' kick because of this article on the Wizard's website, though it might have subconsciously led me down that line of thought. The article (for those who don't feel like following the link) talks a bit about the "Big Six" magic item types in D&D: magic weapons, magic armor/shields, rings of protection, cloaks of resistance, amulets of natural armor, and ability score boosting items (gloves of dexterity and similar things). These are the "Big 6" because they are the magic items that PCs tend to gravitate towards when they can freely buy/make/trade magic items. They are useful in clear and discrete ways and, in general, they are cost-competitive with alternative choices.

They are also boring and flavorless.

This thread on EN World is a response to the article and focuses on how to eliminate Big Six items. The thread as a whole doesn't specifically address the "boring and flavorless" problem, but at least one post in it does so, simply and brilliantly.

The idea? Get rid of the flat bonuses independent of other things. There are no more "Gloves of Dexterity" or "Cloaks of Charisma" - instead, in addition to their other benefits, Boots of Speed might give you a +2 bonus to Dexterity and a Cape of the Mountebank might give you a +4 Charisma bonus. No, that isn't a +1 longsword. It is a flaming longsword (which happens to give you a +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage as well).

This makes magic items more powerful, but it also makes it so that you don't need quite as many of them... and they're more flavorful. I think it could work well.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Not for Everyone

Bruce Baugh is writing a supplement to Spirit of the Century focusing upon marginalized (due to race, religion, gender, or whatnot) pulp heroes in the 1920s.

Some people love the idea.

Some people are skeptical.

The usual suspect is spewing the usual vitriol.

Me? I'm curious and (cautiously) hopeful.

I like some of Bruce Baugh's stuff. When it was published, Adventure! was the cleanest version of the Storyteller system to date, and I thought it accomplished what it set out to do well. I've read some worrisome things about his version of Gamma World - and I haven't read it for myself. Having read what he had intended to do with it, though, I think his intentions were pretty cool.

This isn't about Bruce, though.

It is about the possible purposes of RPGs. Some people are of the unshakable opinion that a RPG should be a game... and nothing else. They point to the fact that the "G" stands for game. If it has other motives outside of the realm of those things typically associated with games, then those motives are invalid.

I think that is crap.

Roleplaying has been widely used as a tool in a variety of areas. It is powerful as an educational tool. It has been used therapeutically. I expect that the roleplaying game itself evolved from military simulations used for actual military planning.

To say that combining one of these goals with enjoyment within the context of a roleplaying game is inherently wrongheaded seems ignorant.

That's not to say that a person couldn't have a valid concern about any given instance of including one of these goals within a game. Personally, I don't understand what is objectionable about Bruce's project. Does the topic interest you? Would you like to gain some insight into what it would be like to be discriminated against and fight against that discrimination? If so, then you might be interested in the game. If this doesn't interest you, then don't buy the thing. No one is forcing you to do so.

In general, I think that the more of this stuff that's out there, the better. I'd like the RPG hobby and industry to be a bit wider, more innovated, and more socially accepted than it currently is. While I don't know that game supplements like this are the answer to that, I think that they are probably a necessary step.

A Blast at The Past

So, today, RPGnet has posted a review of the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

I know a lot of people swear by "Uncle Gary," but a few months back, I picked this thing up (to do something other than look up a magic item) for the first time in a long while. I was astounded at the apparent incoherency and the competitive DM vs. Player mentality that permeated the entirety of the book.

I suspect there is a lot of value in the thing, but it is too painful for me to find it.

In any case, the review rates it:

Style: 1 (Unintelligible)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)

...and, strangely enough, the reviewer has yet to be seriously flamed for it in the comments.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Real Magic Items: Boots of Striding and Springing

I appreciate the fact that D&D 3.5's magic items are all clear in terms of what it takes to create them. I like the fact that they are (mostly) sanely balanced with respect to each other0 in terms of price and power.

They lack flavor, though. Older versions of D&D had weird, idiosyncratic magic items. Now, most things replicate spells. Items that increase your abilities with skills typically give a +5 bonus. Whoopee.

I'm going to try to revise some classic magic items here to make them more interesting (and maybe toss in some new ones). Today's inaugural entry:

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Boots of Striding and Springing
These boots increase the wearer’s mobility tremendously, allowing him to make great, leaping strides. Each stride allows the wearer to cover an amount of distance equivalent to her base speed. She only touches the ground at the beginning or end of a single stride. The wearer may make one such stride as a move action, two as a standard action, and four as a full-round action.

Faint transmutation; CL 3rd; Craft Wondrous Item, longstrider, creator must have 5 ranks in the Jump skill; Price 6,000 gp; Weight 1 lb.

Despite changing the mechanics, I kept the creation requirements the same. They made sense. I sort of eyeballed the price here. I thought they were maybe a bit better - if more specialized - than the standard version (priced at 5,500 gp) , but maybe not as useful as Boots of Levitation (7,500 gp).

Thoughts toward a new Monk (or two)

The other day, I met Jeff for lunch. Mostly, we discussed game drama and future gaming plans.

One topic of conversation, however, was our mutual dissatisfaction with the monk character class as it is portrayed in D&D.

As I see it, the monk has a split personality. On the one hand, he's a martial artist. On the other, he's into this self-perfection thing. Both of these are valid paths, and they aren't mutually exclusive... but there is a lot built in to assuming that they are inextricably linked.

Jeff's view was rather different than mine - focusing on a comparison between the monk and other martial classes, but I'll let him explain it himself if he wants.

There are other issues I have with the monk:

Flavor issues: The monk seems to be based on some assumptions about setting. This isn't an issue that is unique to the monk (the paladin, for instance, has it as well), but the monk's setting assumptions don't obviously fit neatly within the standard D&D setting.

Mechanics issues: The monk's unarmed damage progression has long struck me as awkward. It makes unarmed attacks superior to armed attacks. It doesn't make sense in conjunction with natural weapons. I'd like to see a mechanic that looked more like the rogue's sneak attack or the soulknife's psychic strike.

Metaphysical issues: The monk has a bunch of supernatural abilities, some of which have the word "ki" in them. Are these related to the ninja's ki abilities? Are they psionic in nature? What's the deal here?

Alignment issues: Martial artists have to be lawful?

Weapons issues: In addition to the fact that it is generally ineffective for monks to use weapons (barring things like using a kama to trip or shuiriken for a ranged attack or a magic weapon for it's special abilities), a good chunk of a monk's weapon proficiencies are for exotic weapons. This seems sort of inelegant. A monk can use a kama but not a short sword (or even a sickle)? Nunchaku... but not a mace? Without a really good reason, I don't buy it.

How might I change things?

I'd seriously consider either splitting the class in two (one class focused on martial arts and another on meditation and self-perfection), or I'd reduce the emphasis on martial arts and note that monks often multiclass as fighters or something. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward the first of these options. I'd make it easy enough to multiclass between the two and approximate the current monk.

Wand Week Ends

I find that I am not writing anything else when I do this stuff, but I wanted to force myself into that habit of updating every day. In that, it succeeded.

Today, I give you some funky features for wand customization as well as an even more funky (and, perhaps, somewhat silly) wondrous item for use with wands.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Wand Features:

This wand may be used as a dagger. It overcomes damage resistance as a magic weapon, but provides no enhancement bonus to attack or damage rolls.
Faint Transmutation; CL 5; Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Wand, Magic Weapon; Price +250 gp.

This wand is particularly attuned to the magics of the spell which is contained within it. When that spell is cast by the wielder of this wand and this wand is not used to cast it, the spell is cast at +1 caster level.
Strong (no school); CL 7; Craft Wand, wand must be created at greater than minimum caster level; Price +2,625 gp.

This wand is more physically sturdy than normal. It has hardness 15, 30 hit points, and a break DC of 26.
Moderate Abjuration, CL 7; Craft Wand, Stoneskin; Price +750 gp.

New Wondrous Item:

Glove of Wands
Each finger of this leather glove is tinted a slightly different shade. On command, a wand held in the hand wearing the glove disappears and is stored in one of the fingers. A glove of wands can hold up to one wand per finger. Wands stored in the glove can be used, provided that the finger in which the wand is stored is extended. A wand can be retrieved from the glove on command as a free action.

In addition, each finger is attuned to a different sort of wand.

Thumb: When a wand stored in the thumb of the glove is used to cast a spell that provides a morale bonus, that bonus is increased by one.
Index finger: When a wand stored in the index finger of the glove is used to cast a ray spell, that ray receives a +1 bonus on attack rolls.
Middle finger: When a wand stored in the middle finger of the glove is used to cast a necromancy spell, the saving throw DC of that spell is increased by one.
Ring finger: When a wand stored in the ring finger of the glove is used to cast a conjuration (healing) spell, the spell is cast at +1 caster level.
Little finger: When a wand stored in the little finger of the glove is used to cast an enchantment (compulsion) spell, the spell is cast at +2 caster level for the purposes of determining duration.

Moderate transmutation; CL 11th; Craft Wand, Craft Wondrous Item, shrink item; Price 18,000 gp (one glove).

...and thus ends wand week.

I hope you enjoyed it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wand Week,, Day IV

No alliteration today.

Two more spells.

Tomorrow: the final installation - new features with which to customize your wands.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Level: Sorc/Wiz 4
Components: V,S,F,M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: One wand
Duration: 10 minutes/level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless, object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless, object)

This spell takes a scroll and scribes its writings onto a wand. While the spell lasts, the wand may be used to cast either its original spell or any of the spells that were scribed on the scroll at a cost of one charge each. The sum of the spell levels of the spells on the scroll must be less than or equal to the spell level of the spell contained in the wand.

Material Component
The scroll used.


Level: Sorc/Wiz 5
Components: V,S,F
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: One or more wands
Duration: 1 hour/level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless, object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless, object)

This spell takes a number of wands and merges them so that they form a staff. Any number of wands may be so merged provided that the sum of the spell levels on those wands does not exceed your caster level. When the wands are merged, they use your caster level rather than their own. The staff can be used to cast any of the the spells contained in the wands. Each spell cast from the staff uses a single charge from the wand that it came from. At the end of the spell's duration, the staff splits back into its component wands.

The staff formed may be used as a quarterstaff, and, while it has no enhancement bonus, it overcomes damage reduction as a magic weapon. It has AC 7, 10 hit points, hardness 5, and a break DC of 24. If destroyed, the staff splits back into its component wands, each of which must individually make a DC 20 fortitude save or be destroyed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I was thinking of waiting until the end of Wand Week for this... that I could give you the Weekend Wand Warrior.

This is a silly, three-level prestige class for Jedi wannabes. Enjoy.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Wand Warrior

Hit Die: d8


To qualify to become a wand warrior, a character must fulfill all the following criteria.

Use Magic Device 5 ranks

Weapon Finesse

Class Skills

The wand warrior's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Craft (Int), Intimidate (Cha), Jump (Str), Listen (Wis), Profession (Wis), Spellcraft (Int), Spot (Wis), Tumble (Dex), and Use Magic Device (Cha).

Skill Points at Each Level

4 + Int modifier.

Class Features

All of the following are Class Features of the wand warrior prestige class.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency

A wand warrior is proficient with all simple weapons and with light armor.

Wand Blade (Su)

As a move action, a wand warrior can expend a single charge from a wand and create a blade composed of arcane energy that projects from the end of a wand. Regardless of the size of the wielder, the blade deals 1d8 points of damage (crit 19-20/×2). The wand blade is a finesseable weapon. A character's Strength bonus does not add to either his attack or damage when using a wand blade, and a wand blade gains no benefit from being wielded two-handed. The wand blade has an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls that is equal to the level of the spell contained in the wand. A wand blade is considered a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

A wand blade can be broken (it has hardness 10 and 10 hit points); however, a wand warrior can, as a free action, spend another charge from the wand to maintain the blade's integrity. A wand blade lasts as long as the wand warrior wishes, but the moment he relinquishes his grip on it or spends the wand's last charge, the blade dissipates.

A wand warrior may use the wand that his wand blade extends from as a normal wand without interfering with its use as a wand blade, except as noted above.

A wand warrior can use feats such as Power Attack or Combat Expertise in conjunction with the wand blade just as if it were a normal weapon. He can also choose wand blade for feats requiring a specific weapon choice, such as Weapon Specialization. Powers or spells that upgrade weapons can be used on a wand blade.

Energized Blade (Su)

At second level, a wand warrior's wand blade is charged with an energy type (Acid, Cold, Electricity, Fire, Force, or Sonic) if the spell contained in the wand used has that energy type as a descriptor. The blade deals an extra 1d6 points of damage of the appropriate energy type on a successful attack.

Wandstrike (Ex)

At second level, a wand warrior may make a full attack with his wand blade and use the wand on which it is based to cast the spell contained in it. A wand warrior making a wandstrike takes a -2 penalty to all his attacks in that round. Casting the spell from the wand uses a charge as normal.

Unstoppable Blade (Su)

At third level, a wand warrior may, as a swift action, expend a up to two charges from the wand used to create his wand blade. If he expends a single charge, he subtracts the spell level contained in the wand from the hardness of any inanimate objects he attacks in that round. If he expends two charges, his attacks in that round are resolved as melee touch attacks.

Table: The Wand Warrior
0Wand Blade
0Energized Blade, Wandstrike
1Unstoppable Blade

I'm a little worried that it is too powerful, but it does involve a significant opportunity cost for anyone who'd be interested in it insofar as they'd be abandoning their original class for three levels... not to mention that the class will burn through wands like crazy.

I'd toyed with giving it a medium base attack bonus, but I couldn't bring myself to follow through with that.

I could see this being a nice option for a UMD-focused bard or rogue who wanted to be a bit more martial. It could also make a nice sideline for a Swashbuckler who didn't mind spending some skill points in UMD.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wand Week, Day Deux

Today, you get two fundamental feats for wand wielders.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Wand Focus [General]
Benefit: Add +1 to the Difficulty Class for all saving throws against spells cast from wands.

Wand Mastery [General]
Prerequisites: Use Magic Device 1 rank
Benefit: You may take 10 on Use Magic Device checks made to use a wand. You may also take 10 on caster level checks when casting a spell from a wand.

These are based on feats usable with non-wand-based spells. Be thankful that I didn't write up a wand version of Spell Penetration.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Wand Week

This week is Wand Week!


I don't know, but I feel all alliterative.

Today we get two spells that work with wands.

The material enclosed in the box below is released via the Open Game License.

Charge Wand
Level: Sorc/Wiz 3
Components: S,F, special (see below)
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: One wand
Duration: 10 min/level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless, object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless, object)

This spell provides a single wand held by the caster with temporary charges equal to 1d6 +1/caster level (Maximum 1d6 +10). Temporary charges are spent before any permanent charges are expended. At the end of this spell's duration, one permanent charge is expended from the wand.

Wand to Weapon
Level: Sorc/Wiz 4
Components: V,S,F, special (see below)
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch

Target: One wand
Duration: 1 hour/level
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless, object)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless, object)

This spell alters the physical properties of a wand to mimic those of a light weapon appropriate to the caster's size. The weapon must be one for which the caster is proficient. When casting the spell, the caster may choose to expend up to one charge per four caster levels (maximum 5 charges). For each charge so expended, the weapon gains a +1 enhancement bonus on attacks and damage. A wand so transformed may still be used to cast spells from the wand as normal.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Magic systems, revisited

I've been thinking a lot about different magical systems in RPGs.

I don't particularly care for the Vancian fire-and-forget thing. I'm also not a huge fan of uses per day. I don't have an issue with there being limits on magic use, but an absolute and regular limit seems very artificial to me.

Though some people like it, I think that damage based systems like Shadowrun (where you burn health for magical power) are just not fun. I don't have a problem with it being a las resort option (that's cool and evocative), but if the only way for me to use magic is to be a masochist... well... I won't use it.

I'm also not a fan of mana point systems. I hate bookkeeping.

I've already discussed the possibility of making magic completely skill-based. I think this is better, but it still has some issues. The problems with this? For one, it begs to be min-maxed. A wizard with the right magic item will be a much better caster than an otherwise-better wizard. For another, well, it involves a lot of extra dice rolling.

That said, it might be the best option I can come up with...

I have, however, been musing on the idea of Reserve Feats as presented in the Complete Mage. I'm wondering how a system would look that expanded upon that. You could have spells that could be used at two (or more) different levels: a simple version that the wizard could use near-continuously and a more powerful version that taps into the wizard's power store in some way.

Since I don't want to use mana for this, I think I'd hybridize this with a skill-based system. You can cast the spell at the lower level without making a roll (cutting down on unnecessary die-rolling). If you want to cast the spell in a more powerful way, you need to roll... and this roll, maybe, could get progressively more difficult depending upon how many you've made since resting. If you succeed on the roll, great. If you fail... maybe you have a choice: either the spell fails or something bad happens (you take damage, you take an additional casting penalty for the rest of the day, the spell misfires, or whatever).