I’ve never really been a big fan of spell points. Even when I’ve disparaged Vancian-style magic, spell points haven’t leaped up at me as a good solution. In part, this is because I consider verisimilitude to be the highest good after fun in my RPG gaming. Vancian magic may be annoying and almost completely unlike the way magic works in most novels, comic books, or movies, but at least it feels more like magic than a spell point system. Choosing spells feels more magical and involves fewer layers of abstraction between you and your character. It’s also quicker than spending points, since by choosing what you’ve prepped, you’ve cut down on the available options at the time of casting.
That said, I’m contemplating a spell-point system for clerics in my next campaign. Why? Primarily, because it bugs me that magic-users and clerics use the same mechanic for spells. If magic is so similar for them, why can’t they pinch from each other’s lists? Yeah, I could come up with all sorts of reasons, but it would just make me happier if they used different mechanics.
There are good game reasons for them to use the same mechanics, though. It means that the cleric and the magic-user will be united in their need for rest in order to recover their spells. They’re also likely to need that rest at the same time, making the group more likely to stop in order to recharge the magical batteries of their spell-slingers.
I think I can keep those benefits, and offer more. By moving to a spell-point system, I also make the cleric a lot more flexible and powerful. I don’t have a huge problem with this, because in my games the cleric is always getting dumped on by the temple hierarchy. There are all sorts of ways to rein-in your clerics, from temple politics to cranky deities. So I’m not too worried on this score.
There are two benefits I see to a spell-point system. The first is improved healing. If, instead of having healing done by spells, I instead have the cleric burn spell points to replace hit points on a one-per-one basis, that really opens things up. Like the 3rd edition D&D rule where the cleric can swap another spell for a healing spell, this actually allows the cleric to do something other than cast cure spells all day long. It makes the cleric more interesting to play, but doesn’t punish the party for it. It also means that low-level clerics aren’t stuck with helping only one person, with everyone else just having to suck it up until after the cleric rests. (In my experience, that just leads to the party camping out for three or four days while the cleric sleeps, casts cure light wounds, sleeps, casts again…)
The second, and more important benefit from my point of view, is that it gives me something to hang sacrifices on. I’m not talking about the wishy-washy sort of sacrifices you see people performing around Lent (or the fasting period of your religion of choice), where people give up sodas or chocolate. Heck, no! I’m talking about that old time religion, with snow-white bulls and ornate, unwieldy daggers, and priests up to their elbows in blood.
(Yeah, I know, James Maliszewski and others have pointed out how the cleric in OD&D was based on Roman Catholic tropes, and carried those trappings all they through into 2nd edition and beyond. That’s all well and good, but if I’m going to say my clerics are part of a polytheistic pantheon full of savage moon gods and devious spider crones, how exactly does that fit with a priest who behaves like he just stepped out of Father Francis O’Malley’s seminary lecture? Remember, I want greater verisimilitude, so if I’m going to have my clerics worshipping non-Christian polytheistic deities who are red in tooth and claw, then by God they should act like it!)
So, here’s the deal: spells cost 4 points per level to cast. The number of points you can have maximum and the highest level spell you have access to is based on your level, and this pretty much mirrors the way things were done in Moldvay/Cook D&D. When a cleric performs daily devotions, the DM or player rolls 2d10. The cleric gets their Wisdom score minus the roll plus 4 spell points (with a minimum of 4). The cleric cannot pray for more points for another 24 hours, and cannot “store” more spell points from prayer than their level allows.
However, spell points from sacrifice are held above and beyond that limit. The cleric can only be benefiting from a single sacrifice at a time (this keeps the cleric from spending down time just sacrifice entire herds of sacred cattle and racking up hundreds of spell points). Generally, a cleric gets 4 spell points for every hit die of the creature being sacrificed. If the cleric instead sacrifices wealth and jewels, rather than living creatures, it’s much less efficient, returning only 1 spell point per 40 gp value. (And note that this wealth isn’t spent on the temple, or given to the poor, or anything like that. It is sacrificed to the god and thus lost to the mortal world.)
Animals suitable for sacrifice must be exceptional in some way, and must cost at lest 150% of their standard list cost. (I’m probably going to use the costs from 1e’s PHB for livestock.) They must also be ritually prepared, and a proper sacrifice requires one quarter hour per HD of the sacrifice for preparation and performance of all the necessary rituals.
Can sentient creatures, people, humanoids, and the like be used for sacrifice? That probably depends on the god, but in general, I’d say yes. However, note the prep required in the previous paragraph; a cleric can’t simply wade into combat declaring, “I’m sacrificing this orc I’m fighting to my god!” (However, I am tempted to allow that sort of thing under special circumstances. The idea of a cleric charging into combat shouting some variation on “Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!” is just too cool to ignore.)
Ok, that’s enough for now. I’m going to roll this around in my head for a bit and see if I can find any real problems. If you see some glaring oversight, please let me know.