Most MMOs these days use cooldowns for abilities. While this is almost entirely a nod to how the pacing of video game combat is different from tabletop combat, a cooldown system could still work for tabletop. This system has not been tested at all, and probably drastically changes how casters play in D&D.

Characters receive spells the same way as normal: spontaneous casters receive a list of spells known, and prepared casters essentially create a different list of spells known each morning.

Casters should have space on their sheets (or on an extra sheet) to have a different area to track counters for each spell level castable. They should also, of course, have counters of some kind (coins, chips, or beads).

When all spaces are clear of counters, a caster may cast any spell he or she knows/has prepared. After casting a spell, place counters equal to the spell level on the appropriate area (e.g., if casting a 5th level spell, place five counters on the “5th level spell” tracking area).

If a spell level has at least one counter on it, no spell of that level can be cast. For example, if there are three counters on the “5th level spell” area, the caster may not cast any 5th level spells. The caster can still cast spells of levels that do not have counters on them, and then adds the appropriate number of counters to the area.

Once per round, at the beginning of the character’s action, the player may remove one counter from a single spell level:

  • Wizards, Clerics, and other caster classes that would normally have fewer spells per day cannot remove counters from any spell level until the next lowest level is clear of counters (e.g., if both levels 4 and 5 have counters, the counters on 5 cannot be removed until the counters on 4 are all gone).
  • Sorcerers, Bards, and other classes with more spells per day can remove counters from any level, regardless of the state of lower level spells.

Remember that there are 10 rounds per minute: out of combat, a caster with 9th level spells that is completely exhausted will refresh all levels in less than five minutes.

This system should create a natural rhythm to spell use in combat, as casters move around spell levels while other levels are recharging. Access to higher levels spells means more options at the beginning of a fight, and an easier ability to cast while previously expended levels are recharging. Ultimately, even in a protracted fight, all casters should be able to cast first level spells indefinitely (or alternate between spells and other actions to allow bigger spells to recharge). Theoretically, the ease of using lots of medium-to-long duration buffs should be compensated for by having to devote lots of prepared slots to those buffs; unlike standard D&D, lower level spells may see a lot of use in fights, so low level slots might not be advantageously devoted completely to buffs and miscellaneous spells. While this system essentially allows casters to “nova” every fight, it provides drastically fewer spells of the highest levels to do this with; i.e., the caster can cast max level spells every fight, but can’t cast multiple max level spells every fight (except in longer fights).