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Vancian Magic

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Leeky Windstaff: You did not actually prepare any sonic energy spells today, did you?
Vaarsuvius: Not as such, no.
Leeky Windstaff: Truly, more wizards have been laid low by the writings of Jack Vance than by any single villain.
Vaarsuvius: On an unrelated note, would you consider a brief pause in the battle? Say, about eight hours or so?

Vancian Magic is a specific sub-set of rule magic which conforms to these functional rules (and optionally whichever metaphysics the writer chooses):

  1. Magical effects are packaged into distinct spells; each spell has one fixed purpose. A spell that throws a ball of fire at an enemy just throws balls of fire, and generally cannot be "turned down" to light a cigarette, for instance.
  2. Spells represent a kind of magic bomb which must be prepared in advance of actual use, and each prepared spell can be used a limited number of times before needing to be prepared again. That's why it is also known as "Fire & Forget magic."
  3. Magicians have a finite capacity of prepared spells which is the de facto measure of their skill and/or power as magicians. A wizard using magic for combat is thus something like a living gun: he must be "loaded" with spells beforehand and can run out of magical "ammunition".

This tends to create the problem that the mage must somehow know (or at least predict) which spells will be most useful in the near future. If you are expecting combat, then you (probably) aren't going to prepare a "talk with animals" spell that day, which may leave you up a creek if that's precisely what you need to do later. (And if you use up all your spells too quickly, you may really be up a creek later.)

Naturally, this approach to magic is a lot more common in non-interactive media (where it's of course easy for the creators to match the character's spell selection — when it's even explicitly shown — to the later needs of the plot) than it is in video games, which, while often inspired by Vancian Magic, stretch its rules quite a bit since demanding a lot of magic preparation in a game could easily become annoying and/or create pacing issues. As such, most games that involve magic base its rules around the much simpler Mana Meter, or some mix of the two tropes.

A frequently used fourth rule is a naming convention: Possessives and variations thereof — e.g. Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth. In a series of spells that is often the same or slightly varied, e.g. "Bigby's X Hand" (...Grasping, Pushing, Clenched).

The name comes from the late Jack Vance, writer of exotic Science Fiction and Fantasy. Vancian magic first appears in his Dying Earth. Gary Gygax and his collaborator Dave Arneson subsequently "borrowed" the basic ideas for the magic system of Trope Codifier Dungeons & Dragons.

The disapproving term is "Utility Belt Magic" (you load it, then have N buttons to press).

Compare Powers as Programs, Fantastic Science, Ritual Magic.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering, in that the "ammo" is represented by cards — you can only cast a spell if you have a card for it, and each card is used up once its spell is cast.
    • Depending on the writer, this can turn up in the books: in one instance, Barrin is mentioned as having prepared only certain spells, though this is probably an attempt to explain one of the game mechanics within the universe.

    Comic Books 
  • Used by the White Witch, in the pre-boot Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • Played straight in the backstory of Die with wizards forgetting spells as they cast them. The new Grandmaster added a rule that they had to lose another memory as well. A wizard trying to rescue his children who had been turned into a hydra, cast a spell to unlock their cage, forgot the hydra was his kids and then killed it.

    Fan Works 
  • Hikigaya Hachiman of My Hero School Adventure Is All Wrong As Expected can copy up to 108 other Quirks at the cost of each Quirk having 1/108 as much power as the original. This was originally viewed as a largely useless Quirk by both himself and his classmates until he copied One for All. Hikigaya can transfer energy from his own version of One for All, Stockpile, into his other Quirks to give them a one time only increase in potency. The drawback is that it takes an hour to charge a single Quirk to 10% power and an additional two hours to charge that same Quirk up to 20% with the time each additional increment takes being based on the Fibonacci Sequence (three hours for 30%, five for 50%, and so on).
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, the canonical principle that Wizards use intellect while Witches use emotion and feeling in their magic is pretty strictly followed. However, the oldest daughter of Professor Ponder Stibbons, born with magic, becomes a Witch who got a significant part of her training in magic from her father and other wizards. As a Witch, she can throw a very mean and impressive fireball. If she's angry, they get bigger, like pocket supernovas. But she also learnt a rafter of handy Wizard spells from her father, the sort that require preparation, intellect, and a particular form of words. Another witch, who through force of circumstances learnt more from a wizard than from her nominal tutor Witch note  now works as a Technical Officer for the Air Watch, applying her wizard-learnt talents to flight and aviation technomancy.

  • As noted above, originated in Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, hence the name of the trope. It was not structured into "levels," and it was possible for anyone to attempt to use it, although with the possibility of backfiring. Spells that killed people instantly (such as The Excellent Prismatic Spray) were quite common and every wizard knew them. Of course, the Dying Earth series was not exactly about people killing each other — they were often too petty and vain to take the simple route to their troubles. It is unclear whether the hundred or so spells still known to most magicians included less-powerful choices compared to the ones we see in the books. We might assume that less-powerful magicians couldn't handle or didn't know the more-powerful spells. We aren't really introduced to a wide selection of them. The Dying Earth represent only a few books and the Vancian Magic system wasn't present in Vance's other works.
  • Also used in Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber mythos: Merlin, hero of the later novels, explicitly prepares and "hangs" spells to be used later. However, prepared spells decay over time and must be prepared again even if not used. There, it's a matter of pre-constructed spells allowing more efficiency, and a [properly trained] sorcerer can use magic anywhere on a spectrum from Vancian magic to real time improvisation with the raw forces of the universe. It's not that a wizard can't come up with a spell in the middle of a battle, it's just that a wizard who comes prepared can spend less time worrying about the most elegant formulation of a spell and more time not getting fried by the opposition. The "hanging" spells take this a little further: if you want to use a highly complicated spell in battle, it saves everyone's time if you've already cast most of the spell in advance.
  • The City and the Dungeon: V-type magic works this way. It's noted to be less flexible than M-type magic, but generally more powerful.
  • In the Discworld, wizards are sometimes shown using this form of magic, and the series takes the third rule to an extreme — for the first two books, Rincewind has one of the eight spells of the Octavo in his head, and it's so powerful that other spells just don't fit (or are too scared to stay). Although once it's ejected, it turns out he still can't learn any useful magic; he was an Inept Mage even before the incident with the Octavo, which he wasn't supposed to be looking at in the first place but opened to win a bet, and the spell apparently jumped in of its own volition and took the instructions on the pages of the grimoire with it. This is not typical behaviour for Discworld spells, but whether that's down to Early-Installment Weirdness or the Octavo spells being several orders of magnitude older and more powerful than any other magic on the Disc (and widely believed to have been used to create it in the first place) isn't clear.
    • In addition, spells follow the law of conservation of energy: with few exceptions, a wizard must expend as much energy learning or preparing a spell as it uses to do its task. Therefore, impressive spells could take many lifetimes to prepare and simply aren't worth it. And once a wizard finally finds out how to summon nubile virgins, he's way too old to remember why he wanted to do that.
    • This is demonstrated with the various transportation spells used in the series: In one book, a character who wants to ascend to the top of the tower first has to use magic to knock loose a stone from the top, and use its energy and momentum as a lever in the spell. In Interesting Times, they teleport Rincewind to the Aurient, but have to exchange him with something from his landing spot and of approximately the same weight. At the same time, in Equal Rites, levitating a staff a handful of feet is extremely physically taxing because there isn't anything nearby to use as a counterweight, so the wizard in question has to do all the heavy lifting with his mind.
    • This is subverted in a fashion in Sourcery, when a character who is a literal conduit of magical energy is present, wizards are capable of overriding the usual restrictions of conservation of their own bodies by using the excess energy floating around.
    • Also, the whole idea of spells taking so much energy to prepare is now sometimes passed over with "well, it was the least competent wizard in the world claiming that" or words to that effect. Pretty much the last reference to the wizards having a Vancian system is in Reaper Man, where the Dean justifies firing a whole bunch of highly destructive spells at once on the grounds that he has them prepared, so not using them would mess up the University inventory.
    • Discworld Witches, on the other hand, don't bother with the rules or with anything so wordy or as tedious as preparation time learning spells. All that is disdained as "words" and "jommetry". Witches can do powerful or destructive spells almost intuitively, without any intellectualising: as Granny Weatherwax demonstrated in Wyrd Sisters, a Witch merely needs to be angry before she throws a spell which in that case is powerful enough to cause a cart's wheels to disintegrate and fall off their axles - from two hundred yards away. Here, emotion is key. The stronger the emotion, the more powerful the magic. Elsewhere, complex Witch spells with multiple effects need more thinking about: but in Magrat's case this involves visualisation, of a centuries-old oak door springing into active tree life again and putting out roots and branches.
  • Joel Rosenberg's Guardians of the Flame: All wizards and clerics in Rosenberg's world work by this rule, needing to either memorize spells or pray for them each day. This causes huge problems when the party's most experienced wizard accidentally destroys his spellbooks while the party's sole cleric is unable to regain her spells through prayer because she no longer believes in a benevolent deity. It's definitely supposed to play like D&D, but he even mushed up some of the mechanics (attributes are rolled with 5d4 (reading 0-3) and class levels are on an alphabetical scale (A to whatever) for example. Importantly, it has rules for going berserk (which D&D of its era never did), which is a plot point. After the first book, Rosenberg sort of moved away from Vancian spellcasting — the next one that features really extensive use of magic by a viewpoint character (the wizard in the first book having given up wizardry to pursue the far mightier power of engineering, which has begun to radically change the nature of the fantasy world in which the heroes are stuck) is the sixth, The Road to Ehvenor, with no references to Andy-Andy having to prepare spells, or forgetting them after she casts them. You get the impression Rosenberg didn't much like Vancian magic, or writing in detail about magic in general, given the focus of the books on the warrior and thief-types, and the fact that Andy-Andy also loses her magic at the end of Book Six. In the later books it becomes very clear that magic has a strong tendency to consume the sanity of those who use it -- the more powerful wizards are, the crazier they get. And it's also addictive.
  • Used partially, with well-defined parameters, in Lawrence Watt-Evans' The Legends of Ethshar series. There are many different forms of magic, the Vancian one being Wizardry. This is heavily dependent on ritual and materials or foci, uses the naming convention almost universally, and most significantly, structured into levels: spell "orders", a second-order spell being eight to ten times as hard as as a first order spell, and so on. There are at least twelve orders referenced, so small wonder that major wizards use an eternal youth spell so they have studying time. Unlike traditional Vancian magic, the spells are cast as soon as the ritual is completed and the number of times a spell can be cast is limited only by material components consumed and casting time. It's also subverted in Taking Flight. There two fire-and-forget wizardry systems are introduced, both with severe drawbacks. The first one lets wizard prepare any one (but only one) spell in advance, to be used once at his convenience, with practically zero casting time. Can be useful, as some spells need days to cast. The drawback is, until the spell is used, the wizard cannot do any other wizardry. The second system is a plot point: wizard prepares about a dozen of spells, to instantly cast later as many times as he likes. The drawback? No other wizardry ever for that wizard, except for these spells.
  • In Matthew Stover's The Acts of Caine series, spells can be patterned into a variety of items and then used as necessary, essentially creating this effect. As the world is a very Low Fantasy take on the Forgotten Realms, the inspiration is likely a direct one.
  • In Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, Kit and Nita often use this method of spellcasting, and even sometimes "pre-load" their spells (i.e., "writing" all but the last word of the spell so that it can be used at a moment's notice.) Of course, Kit and Nita have favorite spells, so presumably it's easier for them to remember those words. And of course, at one point Nita actually carries a utility bracelet of spells.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles the Society of Wizards has a magic system that is very similar, though not identical, to Vancian Magic. Some of the other magic users in the same world use a similar system; spells must be prepared through ritual beforehand, and cast on the spot through the use of a magic word which is set up during the ritual as a trigger. However, in those cases (such as "Argelfraster") it appears that the ritual only has to be performed once, and the trigger can then be used repeatedly.
  • In The Obsidian Trilogy, the term "cantrip" refers to a spell of the High Magick that has been prepared in Vancian fashion. High Magick spells are mostly long, complex, and cast all at once, but if a Mage has need to leave his workroom and time to prepare, most of the casting for certain spells can be done in advance.
  • Mages in the Dragonlance Chronicles, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, are shown to use this magic. At least once the mage Raistlin has explained that each spell must be read and re-read until it is thoroughly memorized, and that upon being used, is forgotten and must be relearned again. All of the Dragonlance Chronicles are explictly set in a Dungeons & Dragons world.
  • At least some magic in Garrett, P.I. works this way. Though Garrett knows no magic himself, he is frequently given a handful of spells by a helpful witch or wizard. They come in different forms — a folded piece of paper to open, a phrase to speak, a potion to throw — but they are always single-use and single-purpose.
  • Hermeticists in The Traitor Son Cycle have to prepare their spells beforehand, and store it in their mind palaces (the spells can be passed between palaces, too). This being said, once a spell is prepared once, it's pretty easy to re-use it.
  • In Artemis Fowl, everyone able to use magic has a set amount of magic available to use, and when they run out they have to undergo an arduous ritual to replenish it. Also, the mesmer uses up decidedly less power than the other magics... unless you need to heal the villain's chronic lack of smell. When Hero Antagonist Holly Short is captured by Villain Protagonist Artemis in the first book, she's only able to escape her cement holding cell because there's a small amount of dirt where she can perform the ritual.
  • In the web novel Anachronauts most wizards do not use magic this way, but the protagonist, Emily, has a "memory issue" which forces her to cast spells from page, i.e. manually copy them on pieces of paper that burn after use. This turns out to be Blessed with Suck, because spells burn anything they're written on, brains included, which is why other human mages end up showcasing that With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. Later on, all mages are given this spell-memorizing restriction.
  • Villains by Necessity: In keeping with the Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy parody, magic works in this way. Valerie duels a good mage, and their spells keep harmlessly blocking each other until they use up all the ones they've prepared. They simply cast their last ones (which are not offensive) then politely take their leave of each other, as neither is then capable of harm by magic at that point.
  • In The Beyonders, magic words of the Edomic language disappear from the speaker's brain once spoken. The first novel revolves around the heroes' attempt to obtain such a word, one that can kill the Big Bad if spoken in his presence. Unfortunately, the fact that the Big Bad is still alive means nobody has managed to do this, and anyone who ever knew the word either died attempting to get to him or has forgotten the word due to being tricked into speaking it prematurely. Fortunately, the rules only apply to whole words; our heroes embark upon a quest through the land seeking individual guardians who each know a single syllable of the word, which they can repeat without instantly forgetting it.
  • Some magic in The Magicians, mainly combat magic. If you want to turn your army's giants invisible and turn yourself into a martial arts expert with force field armor for a few minutes, you have to put in hours of spell work the night before so you can quickly cast the spells when you need them.
  • How Summon Magic works in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. The first time you summon a demon, it's Hermetic Magic with a lot of chanting and pentagrams drawn on the floor. The demon can essentially be put on standby and quickly summoned again with a few words.
  • The Reluctant King: Spells require preparation beforehand usually, along with specific components to work. Without them, a magic user is powerless.
  • This is essentially how demon magic works in The Hollows. That being said, there’s no upper limit to how many spells can be stored through ritual or potion, and many of these spells reset the biological clock, so demons tend to have thousands and thousands of spells on standby.
  • Defied in I Do Not Want To Do This. Set in a modern age in a D&D-inspired world, it's not clear exactly how things changed, but even the most nostalgic-for-past-ages geeks see "the curse of Vance" and having to deal with spell slots like the ancients did as a thing best left in the mythic past.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The original Dungeons & Dragons rules adopted this form as one that would be relatively simple to implement for a game, that wasn't part of any real-world belief structure and easily balanced. Since then, it has become a bit of a sacred cow in later editions, retained even when the game adapts a licensed property (such as Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time books) that itself uses a completely different type of magic.
    • And, well, Gary Gygax was a big fan of Vance, so not only D&D obviously was influenced, but its lore contains shout outs to Vance: the evil necromancer turned God named Vecna, said to have been the most powerful mortal wizard ever; also, Robe of Eyes from The Dying Earth.
    • Starting in AD&D, and continuing through 3.Xe and 4e D&D, the game began to allow some flexibility to the Vancian system. Examples are as follows:
    • Psionics have been in since the third supplement to the original D&D (before AD&D), and use Mana-style 'Power Points' (or similar) that can only be refreshed by resting. Psionic powers tend to be more flexible and long-lived (rather than falling by the wayside and going unused as the psion unlocks higher-tier powers) given the ability to 'augment' them by pouring in more power points but in 3e were less efficient than spells because their unaugmented effects didn't scale with level.
    • AD&D 2nd Edition rulebooks has enough metamagic spells to compose a (semi-official) "school", allowing more flexibility in using — if not memorizing — spells.
    • Spell-point systems of all official products were used only in Netheril setting note  and Players Optionsnote ; plus, of course, homemade variants — in The Net Wizard's Handbook alone 3 of 6 systems were spellpoint-based.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition:
      • Clerics and druids in third edition have a sort of "virtual Vancian" system. Most spells have to be prepared ahead of time, but they each have one classification of spell that can be cast spontaneously at the expense of a prepared slot of the same level. Clerics can spontaneously use a healing effect like cure light wounds if good or one of the inverted negative energy effects like inflict light wounds if evil (neutral ones have to pick one at character creation, although choice of god may influence it - Wee Jas, Greyhawk's lawful neutral goddess of necromancy and love, typically grants spontaneous inflict spells, for example), while all druids regardless of alignment have the power to summon nature's ally at the appropriate level. Clerics and druids, as well as paladins and rangers, also do not need to learn spells and add them to a spellbook beforehand, since their spells are granted through their faith.
      • 3rd edition introduce sorcerers, a separate class from wizards, who don't have to prepare spells, but can only know a very limited number of them. They can't cast those spells at will either, since just as prepared casters, they have a number of "spell slots" for each level. The 3.5E add-on book Complete Divine added the Favored Soul class as an equivalent for the cleric.
      • The 3.5 Spirit Shaman (not to be confused with the many classes simply called Shaman floating around) was a prototype of the 5E/Pathfinder Arcanist casting system, the only difference being that it refers to the 'decide what spells to know for the day' part as retrieving instead of preparing.
      • The Warlock class, as it appeared in 3.5e's Complete Arcane, was completely non-vancian. Warlocks can cast Invocations at will, an unlimited number of times per day, without penalty. However, unless you go epic or invest in feats, you can only learn 12. In addition, the list of invocations is far smaller than the list of available spells. It was later joined by another class that used the same system, the Dragonfire Adept.
      • Late into edition 3.5e, "reserve feats" were introduced, which grant non-Vancian abilities to the caster as long as he has not cast a particular Vancian spell yet.
    • Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition:
      • 4th Edition gave characters of every class, magic or not, "at-will powers," similar to the 3.5e Warlock's invocations, that can be used as often as a player likes. At the same time, the new edition gave every character class Vancian abilities, from Cleric prayers to Fighter exploits. The "encounter power" mechanic sort of splits the difference between Vancian powers and at-will one by having the encounter powers only refresh after a brief rest. The "daily power" can only be used once per day.
      • In addition, 4th Edition has added a ritual system based in Hermetic Magic rather than Vancian, adapting some of the larger and more potent spells from earlier editions into something anybody can use if they take the feat to perform rituals and have the appropriate skill for the ritual (with the exception of Bardic Rituals, which require being a Bard). The irony here is that most of the fourth rule spells of earlier editions, like Tenser's Floating Disk or Bigby's Giant Hand, have been turned into Rituals rather than remaining as Vancian spells amongst one or more of the class powers. This is likely due to Rituals being a broader access, while each class has it's own, personalised power list, rather than drawing from a general exploit, spell, prayer, evocation, discipline, or hex list (corresponding to Martial, Arcane, Divine, Primal, Psionic, and Shadow Power Sources, respectively).
      • As a corollary, Psionic powers, previously completely different from the Vancian system, have now been pulled somewhat closer in. Outside of the Monk's disciplines, the disciplines of the other Psionic classes are a mixture of at-will and daily powers — though the at-wills can be augmented with Power Points for better effects rather than requiring PP to utilise at all. This has made the 3 PP-using Psionic classes (Ardent, Battlemind, and Psion) only slightly less Vancian than other 4E classes.
    • 5th Edition moved away from static spell slots. In 5th Edition, spell-casting classes can "prepare" (i.e. memorize) a certain number of spells, changing the spell list during a downtime. They then get spell slots each level (for example, a 5th level Wizard has four 1st level slots, three 2nd level slots, and two 3rd level slots). They can use those slots to cast any of their prepared spells which "uses up" that slot for the day. They can cast their prepared spells in any combination they wish as long as they have a slot equal to or higher than the spell's level, and many spells are more powerful if cast with a higher level slot — e.g., Cure Wounds is a Level 1 spell that restores 1d8+Bonus HP. Cast with a second level slot, it restores 2D8+Bonus, and so on.
      • In addition, some spell-casting classes have "level 0 cantrips" that they can cast at will once they learn them without using spell slots at all. The cantrips include minor effects (creating a light, minor telekinesis, simple illusions, etc.) as well as direct damage spells which increase with the character's level rather than slot.
      • The Dungeon Master's Guide for 5e contains an alternate set of rules for casting that removes spell slots entirely and replaces them with general spell point pool the prepared spells can be cast from.
    • The Slayers d20 adaptation averted this trope and introduced a more flexible (and arguably much more powerful) variant to coincide with the anime and manga on which it was based (the series using basically a mixture of Theurgy and Rule Magic). Spells per level were retained, becoming "spell slots", but these only affect how many spells a caster can learn in total; all the spells they know can be cast whenever they want and how often the way, at the cost of requiring Life Energy (non-lethal damage and eventually lethal damage is taken each time a spell is cast, whether it succeeds or not).
    • The Vancian system was completely scrapped for the Star Wars d20 game. Force powers have no limit on uses and are used by making a skill check, though your character does have a limited supply of Force Points you can use to make them more powerful or give yourself bonuses, and the powers themselves pull from the user's Vitality Points.
    • Also scrapped for the d20 The Wheel of Time rulebook, in which most weaves can be used at varying power levels to do different things and characters can keep using the Power after they're out of daily weave slots if they don't mind risking headaches, nausea, death, and severing.
    • Retained for Pathfinder, save for bards and sorcerers of course. The Witch base class and Shaman hybrid class, as well as the Eldritch Scoundrel archetype for rogues, all prepare their spells.
      • The Magus class released in an expansion has an interesting hybrid with their Arcane Pool class feature. At a fairly low level, they gain the ability to expend points from the pool to re-use a a prepared spell they already used that day. At a higher level, they can do this for less points, as well as being able to prepare a different spell for the same cost as simply re-using a spell in the weaker version of the skill. In exchange for this, like the bard their spell list only goes up to 6th level, compared to 9th level for full casters.
      • The Oracle is to the Cleric as the Sorcerer is to the Wizard, using the same spell selection but selecting a spell list on level-up that is then fixed. The Inquisitor is a more combat-focused version, with a reduced spell list (capped at 6th level) that hybridizes the Cleric and Bard lists and a greater focus on non-spellcasting class features.
      • Oddly enough, the Arcanist class from the Advanced Class Guide does pretty much exactly what 5th Edition does (bonus points for being in-development at the same time as 5E was, so identical thought processes there). Being a hybrid of the Wizard and Sorcerer, the Arcanist still prepares spells like a Wizard, sorta. The "Sorta" comes from the fact that the Arcanist doesn't prepare his Spell Slots; instead, he prepares his SPELLS KNOWN. From there, the Arcanist can spam spells left and right just like a Sorcerer. An Arcanist with the Heighten Spell Metamagic Feat, therefore, can cast only Magic Missile all the live-long day, using every single daily Spell Slot available to him, just like 5th Edition. The fact that the Arcanist can learn Metamagic Feats for free via their Exploits just makes this nonsense all the easier. They also have a mana hybrid aspect like the Magus with their Arcane Reservoir class feature, a pool of magical energy that can be used to boost spells, produce spell-like magical effects (depending on your levelling choices) or for the standard arcanist power spells (at level 20, so not something that would come up in most campaigns).
      • The Kineticist class is an aversion, featuring many elemental-based spells that don't need to be prepared, and most importantly their core attack is a magic missile that is effectively a cantrip that increases in damage by 1d6+1 every two levels. The major downside of this beam spammer with magic tricks on the side is that almost every spell causes Burn, exhaustion damage to both hit points and maximum hit points, that cannot be healed by anything but eight hours' worth of rest, and the effects of a single point of burn also increase in damage by 1 every level.
    • Pathfinder Second Edition, meanwhile, does a few variants on the trope, attempting to prevent casters from overshadowing non-casters through sheer flexibility while still letting them play more flexibly than First Edition:
      • Prepared casters (Cleric, Druid, Magus, Witch, and Wizard) play the trope straight, preparing a fixed number of leveled spell slots based on their level. However, they get the benefit of being able to prepare heightened versions of their spells in higher-level spell slots, and some class feats play with the trope by letting you use certain spell slots flexibly or override spell slots you prepared with another spell.
      • Spontaneous casters (Bard, Oracle, Psychic, Sorcerer, and Summoner) use a variant: they can use their spell slots on any spell in their repertoire, but they learn their spells heightened to specific levels and can only use spells at the specific level they learned them at—if they want to cast a spell they know at different level, they have to use up their limited spells known to learn them at a different level. However, they also have “signature spells” they can cast at any level.
      • Magus and Summoner in particular suffer from their respective variants, with each using a “bounded casting” paradigm that leaves them with four spell slots at most (before items that allow more spells to be prepared are taken into account). However, unlike First Edition and DnD 5e, those limited spell slots scale up with your level almost as well as a full caster—the only spells of a Magus’s or Summoner’s spell list they can never truly cast are 10th level spells.
      • Cantrips, focus points, and rituals, meanwhile, avert the trope:
      • Cantrips can be used at will and scale with your level (similar to DnD 5e).
      • Focus points (used for focus spells and some class mechanics like the Psychic’s empowered cantrips) function as “encounter powers” a la DnD 4e. All casters have access to them, as well as the Ranger, Monk, and Champion.
      • Rituals, like in DnD 4e, can be accessed by any party that knows them and has enough qualified secondary casters to make them work. The Ritualist dedication can make them easier to perform and easier to find.
      • The 2e Kineticist, when it leaves playtesting, will likely avert the trope as its 1e counterpart did.
    • Starfinder's spellcasting classes are all spontaneous casters by default, but the "Galactic Magic" supplement has optional rules for converting them to prepared spellcasting.
  • Played with in Warhammer: Battle Wizards (and sorcerers, shamans etc.) can have up to four "levels" of magic, each level representing a spell and a die to cast spells with. No normal wizard can then cast each spell they know more than once, so even the most powerful archmage is limited to 4 spells. However this limit refreshes each 'turn' rather than each 'day' as is common in other tabletop systems. Wizards can also opt to have a better chance of casting a given spell by neglecting to cast one or more of their others and using the power thus saved on their big kill-everything-within-fifty-feet spell. Of course this is still Warhammer; using more dice on a spell in this way increases the risk of mis-casting and something horrible happening.
    • It's also worth noting that the "Battle Magic" spells featured are simply the most powerful spells known to those schools of magic, wizards technically know a host of lesser spells as well, but these lesser magics are more the province of roleplaying games than wargames focusing on clashing armies.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, while it's far from the case in the fluff, the use of psychic powers in-game fits:
    • Psychic powers themselves fit the first rule and the first part of the third rule, as each power has a specific function and effect and a psyker can't use more powers than his/her psychic mastery level allows unless some specific circumstance changes that.
    • Generating psychic powers fits the second rule, as a psyker's powers are determined by die roll prior to the game starting. The exception is those few models whose powers are rolled for each turn.
    • The psychic phase covers the latter part of the third rule. Warp Charge pools are generated for each player by the offensive player rolling 1D6 and adding that to the sum of each player's psykers' mastery levels. The offensive player then has his pool's worth of die rolls to cast his psykers' powers, with the defensive player similarly using his pool to attempt to negate those rolls, or "deny the witch". Once either player exhausts his Warp Charge pool, he can't make any more such rolls until the next psychic phase when the process starts over.
  • Many such lesser spells show up in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which obeys the first law but not the second and third. Wizards know a certain number of predefined spells, but can use them as often as they dare. In some editions, certain types of magic (mostly necromancy) can bypass these limits.
  • GURPS: Thaumatology spends a few pages discussing how to make Vancian magic work with its system. The default magic is based more on Larry Niven than Vance, however, and Thaumatology consists mostly of a toolbox for inventing any magic system you want.
    • The magic system in the Monster Hunters line can function like this, with magic users capable of creating a finite number of prearranged conditional spells and charms that can be used as "prepared spells." This isn't the only way they can use magic, but sometimes you don't have time to cast a spell from scratch when a zombie is trying to chew on your face.
  • Slightly subverted, and then averted, in Unknown Armies. Adepts have to have charges to cast spells, but you can use one or more charges for one of a number of different effects (depending on the charge size), and, when all else fails, use it for a Random Magic effect, which is (mostly) determined by the GM. Meanwhile, Avatars don't have any kind of charge system: they just choose to do it, and they do (if they pass the roll, of course).
  • TORG mostly uses more Hermetic magic, but in the more magical realms, mages can also learn Imprinted spells, which allows them to do the long prep of a spell beforehand, and then at some point later perform the one gesture final part of the spell to invoke it instantly.
  • Rolemaster has a "power points" system. A character has, regardless of profession, power points according to their level, spellcaster professions tend to have good attributes for their respective magic types (intuition for channeling, empathy for essence, presence for mentalism), resulting in more power points than a fighter (although each character has to choose their magic domain when creating the character so that if they decide, for some reason, at some point, to try to learn spells they can't just pull it out of their arses).
  • The Swedish RPG Chronopia has Librumages (who stores their spells as pages in giant tomes) as well as the powder based Cranemorts (essentially Vodoo priests) and Witchbarons (who use more standard spells). While both types require quite exotic ingredients to mix the ink/powder as well as much time and energy to prepare their spells, once they're loaded up however, the only real limit to their stored spells is their carrying capacity (and you can bet that they always keep more at home).
  • Used with slight variations in Legend of the Five Rings. Spells must be learned in advance (generally from scrolls) and are divided according to their rank and element. However, spell slots are tied directly with the caster's "rings", which measure affinity for a given element, rather than to specific spells. So a particular caster might be able to use, say, three fire spells in a particular day, choosing from any fire spells they've previously learned. The exception is maho or "blood magic", which has no per-day limit; its drawback is that blood must be spilled for each spell cast.
  • In Invisible Sun, the Order of the Vance embodies the concept. A Vancian spell must be prepared and stored in the Vance's mind before being cast, and when it is, it is gone until it is prepared and stored once again, unless the Vance chooses to spend Sorcery points to keep it in their head. The preparation and study process takes a Vance about an hour.
  • In Mutants & Masterminds, the Gadget Guides sourcebook adds some guidelines on an advantage which allows for Ritual Magic spells to be readied in advance.

    Video Games 
  • Wizardry, being the original RPG that inspired Dragon Quest (and thus, all JRPGs) used Vancian magic heavily. Spells have levels, from 1 (effectively cantrips) to 7 (world shaping magic), each with a limited use per day — up to 9 per level. There was effectively no way to regain magic in the dungeon, either, meaning that all magic was a very limited resource. There were two classes of magic, Priest and Mage spells, and via class changing shinanigans one could teach this magic to other classes, at limited use.
    • Most of the so called "Wizardry descendants" such as Wizardry Xth Generation, Class of Heroes, and Elminage retain Vancian magic, while others such as Demon Gaze do not. Alchemy and Summoning magic are commonly added to the Mage and Priest magic systems. Vancian magic is considered one of the requirements for a game to be considered a Wizardry game, in accordance with the industry wide agreement called the Wizardry Renaissance.
  • Minecraft uses a system similar to Vancian with its potions. All potions must be meticulously crafted to achieve very specific effects, and there is a limit to how many can be carried at once.
  • Magic works just like this in The Magic Candle. Spells are strictly verbal, but once cast, a spell fades immediately from the caster's memory. Wizards prepare for battle by memorizing their spells over and over, apparently compartmentalizing the "copies" somehow.
  • Early Final Fantasy games, being heavily inspired by D&D, utilize this to a degree. There are 8 levels of spells, with three slots per level. Classes that are more magically inclined can use the higher level spells, and more importantly get more charges per level. Later releases would replace the charges with MP, which simplifies the system while removing the resource management required.
    • Final Fantasy used a fairly Dungeons & Dragons-inspired system, if limited by the technology of the time. Every magic user had a number of spell charges for each level of magic, with the preparation aspect coming from the fact that they could only learn 3 spells out of the four for each level (Red Mages had both schools available). Unlike the Elixirs and Ethers in later games, spell charges could only be recovered by resting. Some of the remakes use the Mana Meter instead but the learning restrictions still apply.
    • Final Fantasy VIII works like this. Each character has a Magic stock which can contain up to 32 distinct spells with a maximum 100 uses each. But instead of resting, characters gain spell charges by Drawing them from opponents and certain objects, or by using various abilities to extract them from items or upgrade other spells. By contrast, sorceresses can apparently use magic at-will, although the character who becomes a sorceress only does so as a Limit Break (presumably to avoid being a Game-Breaker).
    • Similar to VIII above, magic in Final Fantasy XV comes from "elemental energy" drawn from certain locations, and are refined into spells that are stored in the inventory. However, in order to cast them they must be equipped in place of a weapon.
  • Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days uses this with its 'panel' system. Whereas the rest of the series has differently-named tiers having the same basic effect with different power levels (i.e. Fire shoots a single homing fireball, Fira does the same with more power, Firaga does the same with still more power), 358 has each different name represent a different attack (i.e. Fire launches a single homing fireball, Fira launches a straight-line fireball that explodes, Firaga does a catapult-style fireball). Each equipped panel of a given spell gives you one use of that spell (which means you can use Firaga 32 times if you have 32 Firaga panels and enough open slots), and using Ethers restores a given number of uses of each spell.
  • Elona follows this to the letter, and piles on a Mana Meter, spell failure rates, and extortionate prices for spellstock-restoring books to boot, seeing them as the only way to prevent Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. While it doesn't quite manage to deliberately force some kind of arbitrary equality between those of us who can reshape matter with our thoughts and those who cannot, it does wedge magic users into a very comfortable spot high up in Difficult, but Awesome territory.
  • The Enchanter trilogy from Infocom plays this almost completely straight, as far as the mechanics go. The spells themselves are very tongue in cheek, with "fold dough 13 times", "balance checkbook", and "turn original into triplicate" being several examples. Or, for that matter, "turn purple things invisible".
    • The eventual novelization adds some refinements not noticeable in the games themselves (due to the lack of enough on-screen spellcasters). A key element in spellcasting is the caster's presence (mind and personality), which both explains the quirkiness of powerful mages in the verse and why magical methods of copying spells are favored: copying a spell into your spellbook (constructed with materials prepared for psychic receptiveness to its owner) actually filters it through your mind and rewrites a personalized version more comfortable with being cast or memorized by you, and the same spell will be visibly somewhat different when cast by different people. And while there's no guarantee of success for anything beyond some basic utility magic (or even there; the most common way magic students wash out is inability to get down the gnusto spell to copy another spell), if you can manage to permanently memorize a spell it's yours for the casting.
  • The game Balances by Graham Nelson was written as a demonstration of how to write Vancian magic in the Inform programming language, and is explicitly based on the Enchanter series. As befits its status as a demo program and source of code snippets, spells can be reversed, work on almost every object and NPC in the game (and fail gracefully when they don't), and one spell even provides an example of a spell that can only be memorized once.
  • Earlier versions of NetHack had a system where reading a spellbook would give you a finite number of uses of the spell. An unofficial patch, later integrated into the main game in version 3.3.0, changed spells to be forgotten after a sufficient amount of time had passed.
  • In Wandering Hamster, Bob the Hamster, who is a Cute Bruiser Magic Knight, uses this type of magic in the form of his Magic Smite spells.
  • Solomon's Key has a very simple version: fireball spells are used up when cast, and are stored on a scroll of limited length.
  • Dark Souls and Dark Souls II follow this model. Each spell has a given number of uses, which replenishes when resting at a bonfire. Spells must be equipped at a bonfire before they can be cast, and take up one or more Attunement slots. The number of slots can be increased by leveling the Attunement stat, or by wearing certain rings. More powerful spells are limited by a small amount of casts per slot (the sorcerer's starting spell Soul Arrow can be cast 30 times, while Pursuers is limited to only 3 and takes up two slots.) Multiple copies of the same spell can be equipped at once in order to increase the number of uses before having to rest, but you have to have bought the spell multiple times to allow this. Dark Souls III and Demon's Souls have a Mana Meter instead, but spells still need to be equipped and take up a certain number of slots. Demon's Souls even has two separate kinds of slots for sorcery and miracles.
    • Elden Ring follows a different system from the above: while spells still need to be prepared in advance, spell slots are not tied to any particular stats or character level - even the most magically inept characters have a few slots open - and instead are tied to collecting Memory Stones in particular out-of-the-way areas in the open world, mostly wizard towers, which when found permanently increase the slots up to a maximum of 12.
  • Spellcards in Touhou Project work along these lines. Generally. The exact mechanics vary from game to game. Also worth noting is that magic is in no way implied to be inherently Vancian— Spellcards are part of a formalized dueling system.
  • The first Heroes of Might and Magic game uses this system, using the Knowledge stat as the cap on the number of uses the hero can have in each spell. Visiting a Mage Guild recharges the spells found in the Mage Guild. Later games switched to a mana system.
  • In Clash of Clans, spells are created in a spell factory and bottled into jars. These can then be dropped anywhere on the battlefield to release their magic.
  • All the Infinity Engine games (Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II, Icewind Dale I and II, and Planescape: Torment), since they are based on various editions of Dungeons and Dragons, feature Vancian casters. Their spiritual sequel, Pillars of Eternity, features both Vancian and non-Vancian magic being practised by different classes.
  • Aside from Gaiden and its remake, Fire Emblem uses this system, where magic is stored within various items (mainly tomes for offensive use and staffs for utility/healing) to be used, and like the weapons, have a set number of uses. The system Fire Emblem: Three Houses uses is more traditional in that an item is not required. Magic users instead have a number of uses each battle for each spell, with foci empowering the spell rather than serving as a source.
  • The Ordinator — Perks of Skyrim mod for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim adds an optional Vancian Magic perk tree under Alteration that replaces your Mana Meter with a set number of spell charges that can be casted at no cost. Said charges must be replenished by sleeping, higher Magicka grants more charges, and you may trade charges for stronger spells. Since all spells consume a single charge no matter their level, things can get pretty ridiculous when you cast Master-level spells back-to-back when normally one would empty your bar.
  • In the 1975 computer version of dnd, you can only cast a specific number of spells per day and then you must rest before casting a spell again. The game deviates from the Vancian systems popular in tabletop RPGs by removing the need to decide which of the lists of spells you're going to cast that day and how many times. Instead, you can just pick and freely choose which spells to cast on the fly.
  • In Phantasy Star IV, skills work this way as opposed to techniques which employ a more traditional Mana system. The game does feature some twists to it though: there are cases that require the character to wield the appropriate weapon to use the skill i.e Chaz can use Earth, Crosscut, Air Slash, and Ray Blade as long as he's wielding a sword or dagger and the amount of maximun uses usually increases at higher levels.

    Visual Novels 
  • Rin Tohsaka from Fate/stay night uses gems which store prana in them. They act as prana bombs and are an equivalent of an A-rank spell. This allows her to cast powerful bursts of magic in one go... but it took her ten years to store up enough prana for only twelve of these gems, which puts just how powerful an A-rank spell is in perspective. And Saber is able to completely No-Sell one of Rin's fireballs without even noticing, which demonstrates just how outclassed normal humans are against Servants.

  • The Order of the Stick: As a D&D parody.
  • Rusty and Co.: Another D&D parody. Lampshaded with a "VANCE!" Unsound Effect for a Color Spray spell. Prestige underscores the problem late in the level when she lets loose a Fireball, resulting in the page-image seen above.
  • In 8-Bit Theater, Black Mage starts out able to use the Level 9 Hadoken once per day, and nothing else. Or at least, nothing else he's in the mood to use, as "not-level 9 spells aren't [his] idiom". Later on, his Character Development means he does start filling his lower-level spell slots with fiery death...only to use them, if anything, even more irresponsibly than his level 9 spells.
    Red Mage: We're doomed to an icy, uh, doom.
    Thief: That sentence kinda got away from you.
    RM: Our only hope is that Black Mage catches up to us soon! And that he hasn't squandered all of his fire magic on completely frivolous targets.
    Black Mage: [casts fire spell] Dah! More bats! Burn! [casts fire spell] Argh, a fly! [casts fire spell] Some dirt!
  • In a rare example that is unrelated to D&D, magic in Kubera works like this. Mages can cast any given spell a limited number of times per day, though the numbers for each spell improve with practice, and the baseline numbers vary based on your elemental affinity. A triple fire-attribute mage will be able to unload a large number of fire spells from the start, but she'll only be able to use spells affiliated with every other element once per day until she practices with them. On top of that, however, is Vigor, which is basically mana, and is also needed to cast spells and use magic items. Most spells use a relatively low amount of Vigor, but are hard to cast. "Buff" type spells are typically the opposite, being pretty easy to cast, but draining Vigor very quickly.

    Western Animation 
  • The Owl House: Glyph magic in the Boiling Isles is a form of Vancian Magic. It works with specific pentacles and runes known a "glyphs" that work as the Language of Magic: each glyph corresponds to a specific effect, and simply needs to be memorized, drawn and "activated" to cause said effect. Luz, a human among witches, gets by in magical battles despite lacking any natural magical ability through using glyphs: she prepares them on pieces of paper and then uses them as "spell grenades" by sticking them somewhere and activating them. Of course, this also means that the typical Vancian limitation applies when she runs out of "ammunition", but she can still draw the glyphs on the spot if needed.