I’ve always felt that most F20 fantasy rulesets fail in one regard in particular – the ability to have exciting magical duels, where two wizards match off in a flurry of arcane energy. So, inspired by Ars Magica’s certamen, here is a detailed option tailored for D&D5 but easily tweakable to any F20 game.
Wizard’s Duels – Why do they happen?
In any given location, there is only a limited amount of arcane energy waiting to be tapped. With limited resources and almost unlimited magic-user ego, when two arcane spell users come into contact, a wizard’s duel frequently is the result.
- Limited Magic Metaphysic: When two or more arcane spell-casters are in close proximity, the same encounter and within 100’ of one another, their ability to draw on their full magical resources are reduced. Spell damage dice are reduced by 1 step (e.g. d8 to d6), targets of arcane spells have Advantage on any Saves and spell Durations are reduced by 25%.
Why have a duel? Because you’re less use to your party if there’s an enemy Wizard flying around.
- Magical Offense: As a result of their delving into matters arcane, all Mages are surrounded by an innate magical field. This has no effect most of the time, although it does mean that powerful spell casters can be identified through Detect Magic spells and abilities. However, if a spell-caster is targeted offensively by an enemy spell-caster, there is a chance that their magical aura will flare up and trap both casters in a magical vortex, forcing a Wizard’s Duel to take place.
Vortex Check: Caster rolls Spell Attack roll vs DC of 15+ Levels of any active spells on the Opponent Caster (excluding Spell Protections, see below)
Both Wizards are of the same Tradition: +2 to DC
Opponent has raised their aura: + Opponent Caster Level to DC
Caster Level and Active Spells both contribute to the strength of the opponent’s magical aura, a stronger aura making it more likely that a vortex is created. However, a higher level attacking spell is more likely to be able to bludgeon its way through the aura.
Why have a duel? Because magic makes it happen!
Spell Protections: if the target has protection up that defend against spells attacks (e.g. Globe of Invulnerability), that protection sits outside of the Wizard’s natural magical aura. As such, the Vortex check is made only if the attacking spell penetrates the defensive spell.
Raising Aura: A Target Caster can use a Reaction to consciously flare up their magical aura to increase the chance of invoking a duel. To do so, they must be aware of the enemy caster and that a spell is being cast (e.g. they observe verbal, somatic or material components being used, or they see the trajectory of the spell). Alternatively, as a Bonus Action, a Caster can intentionally heighten their aura so that any incoming spell invokes a Duel, even if they are not aware of it. An aura heightened in this way remains heightened until the caster’s next turn.
- Invoked Duel: A Caster within 30’ of an enemy caster can Invoke a Wizard’s Duel. No roll is made, and the Opponent cannot prevent the Duel from starting.
Why have a duel? Sometimes it’s not up to you
A Wizard’s Duel takes place within a magical vortex that exists outside of the prime material plane. Neither the participants nor the vortex itself can be harmed, dispelled or affected by any means by any denizen of any of the known planes. The vortex manifests itself as a crackling storm, which may reflect the personalities and magical strengths of the participants or the inherent magical aura of the place in which the vortex was invoked. Both participants can be seen by any outside observers, although in reality this is a shadow manifestation of their true selves. Observers may also see visual representations of the Wizard’s Duel that correspond with the magic schools or specific spells being used in the duel.
Duels take place in Rounds, in parallel with any action taking place in the real world. The wizards hurl magic against each other in a show of brute force, with the aim of overcoming their opponent and neutralising their magical energy.
- Duelling attributes: Both Casters retain their previous Initiative score. However, for the purposes of the Wizard’s Duel all actions are considered simultaneous. Each caster has a Magic Point score, equal to their normal maximum hit points.
- Each round, the participants each select a spell, giving consideration to Spell School and Spell Level. In a Wizard’s duel, the effect of the spell itself is not relevant, as the duel is fought using arcane energy in its pure distilled form. This selection is done in secret and then revealed simultaneously. That spell is marked off as having been cast. If necessary, the player should also declare whether they are aiming to cause damage or invoke a special effect (see below).
Burning Spent Slots
A Wizard who has cast memorised spells before the duel begins retains some of the essential essence of that spell in their magical aura. Instead of using a memorised spell, a Wizard can opt to use a Spent Slot. To do so, the Wizard must take Hit Point damage equal to 1d4 + Spell Level. If this damage reduces the Wizard’s HP to 0 or less, they fall unconscious and the duel ends. This option is only for spells cast prior to the duel begins, and cannot be used for spells cast during the duel itself.
- The participants roll Duel Score on 1d20 + Spell Attack + Spell level, modified as below .
|School||Offensive Total||Defensive Total||Other Effect|
|Abjuration||-1d6||+1d6||Damage Magic Points|
|Conjuration||Adv||–||Damage Magic Points|
|Divination||–||–||Damage or Special Effect: Assess Power|
|Enchantment||–||–||Damage or Special Effect: Fascinate|
|Evocation||–||–||Damage Magic Points x2|
|Illusion||–||–||Damage or Special Effect: Distract|
|Necromancy||–||–||Damage or Special Effect: Drain|
|Transmutation||–||Adv||Damage Magic Points|
|Universal||–||–||Damage Magic Points|
If the Offensive Total is higher, the Active Caster achieves the Effect detailed in the table above. For some schools, the caster must choose whether they are seeking to cause Damage or to invoke a special effect. This should be declared before the character rolls their Duel score.
NB: For Abjuration, roll 1d20 and 1d6: subtract the d6 for the Offensive total, add it for the Defensive total. For Conjuration and Transmutation, roll 1d20 for the initial total and a second d20 for the Advantage, using the higher value for the Offensive (Conjuration) or Defensive (Transmutation) total as appropriate.
Damage: Roll 1d6 + Caster’s Int + Spell Level – Opponent’s Wisdom save. If the damage total is greater than 0, the Opponent must choose one of the following:
- Apply the remainder as damage to their Magic Points, or
- Discard their highest level memorised spell, or
- Dispel their highest level active spell.
If the Opponent’s Magic Points total is already at zero, they must discard either a memorised spell or an active spell or concede defeat.
Special Effects: The opponent suffers an effect as follows:
- Assess Power: See below
- Fascinate Opponent: Advantage to Defensive total next round
- Distract Opponent: Advantage to Attack total next round
- Drain: Opponent suffers 1 ability point damage to INT or WIS (Attacker’s choice)
In addition, if the Offensive Total is 10 or more points over the Defensive Total, the Opponent also suffers Damage as above.
|Duel Score||Assess Power Result|
|0||Total number of spell levels currently memorised by Opponent|
|+2||As above, plus the school in which the caster currently has the most spells memorised. Also reveals the caster’s Tradition|
|+4||As above, plus number of levels in that school.|
|+6||As above, plus all other schools in which the caster has spells currently memorised, in order of most to least.|
|Every extra +2||Number of spell levels in each school, from most to least. Once all schools and total spell levels are revealed, the Active Caster learns how many Spells are currently memorised plus how many levels of Spent spells there are for any school of their choice.|
Once all schools and total spell levels are revealed, the Active Caster learns how many Spells are currently memorised plus how many levels of Spent spells there are for any school of their choice.
Conceding Defeat: At any time, either caster can offer to concede defeat to their opponent. Their opponent is not obliged to accept and can force the duel to continue. If they accept, the duel ends. The Caster who accepted the defeat is the Victor, the Caster who conceded is the defeated Caster, regardless of the relative positions in terms of spells remaining and Magic Points.
ENDING THE DUEL
The Wizard’s Duel ends when one of the following conditions is met:
- one or both Casters Magic Points reaches zero and they have no more memorised spells remaining
- one Caster concedes defeat and the other Caster accepts
- either Caster’s Hit Points total reaches zero.
If both casters meet one of the ending conditions simultaneously, the duel ends with no Victor.
On ending, the stormy vortex abruptly stops and each caster is returned to their starting location, dramatically but without further harm. No further magical duel is possible between the two individuals for the next 48 hours unless both Casters explicitly agree, in which case the Victor gains Advantage to all Duel rolls.
TO THE VICTOR THE SPOILS
A caster with memorised spells and/or Magic Points remaining is the Victor. They have the opportunity to learn from their experience of the duel:
- A Wizard may add any one of the spells used by their opponent to their spell book. This must be of a level and school that they could normally cast, and must be scribed into their spell book within 12 hours of the duel ending.
- A Sorcerer may replace any of their currently Known spells with one of the spells used by their opponent to their spell book. This must be of a level and school that they could normally cast. This occurs immediately.
In addition, the Victor can ignore the presence of the defeated Caster for the purposes of the Limited Magic metaphysic for the next 48 hours.
PRICE OF DEFEAT
It is possible that the losing Caster still has some spells (or spell-like abilities) remaining. They are free to use these as before. However, any spell cast within 100’ of the Victor and any ranged or area-effect spell cast targeted at a point within 100’ of the Victor has a 50% Arcane Failure rate, and is cast at 50% damage / Advantage of Saves / 50% duration for the next 48 hours.
NB: This is tweaked from an idea I put together a few years back for D&D3.5/PF, so it may be I missed making a few of the changes necessary to fit with D&D5. However, with relatively minor adjustments it could be used for any RPG magic system that has the feature of limited spell casting ability, whether it be Power Points, Mana, Spell Slots or whatever.