Magic: Glyph Casting (5E Rules)

Glyph casting is a point-based spellcasting system that opens up a new world of opportunity (and danger) for wizards in your World of Aetaltis campaign. Discover how to cast spells higher than your level allows, learn to draw magical essence straight from your living spirit, and experience the horror of spell mishaps!

A powerful orc wizard prepares a spell tainted with corrupted essence. (Art by Mitchell Malloy)

Before digging into the 5E game rules for Aetaltan magic, we recommend that you check out the history and story behind magic in the World of Aetaltis.

Glyph Casting

Glyph Casting replaces the standard spellcasting rules for wizards and bards. It is a style of spellcasting brought to Aetaltis by the Atlan Alliance. 

These rules are optional. If you prefer the standard 5E magic system, there is no problem with using those rules. You won't get quite the same feel and you'll lose out on some cool gameplay options, but the traditional 5E rules will work just fine in an Aetaltis campaign. You could even use the Aetaltan magic rules right alongside the standard 5E arcane magic rules without unbalancing your game.

All official Aetaltis game materials will assume that you're using these optional Aetaltan rules for arcane magic. If you choose not to use these rules, you may need to put in a little extra work converting spellcasters in Aetaltis game materials back to the standard rules.

General Guidelines

Glyph casting changes some, but not all, of the standard rules for arcane spellcasting. Keep the following in mind:

  • If a glyph casting rule contradicts the standard rule, use the glyph casting rule.
  • If the glyph casting rules don't address a standard rule, assume the standard rule still stands. 

Primary Differences

Here is a quick overview of the key differences between glyph casting and standard 5E spellcasting.

  • Spell Point System: Glyph Magic is a spell point system inspired by the optional spell point rules presented in the 5E core rules. We’ve called our spell points “essence points,” because as we unveil more of the unique Aetaltis rules, you’ll find they will be used for more than just spells.
  • No Memorization: There is no need for arcane spellcasters to memorize spells in advance. As long as they have learned the spell (that is, it has been transcribed into their spellbook) they can cast it.
  • Skill Roll: To better reflect the techniques used to cast arcane spells on Aetaltis, glyph casting requires a skill roll. This roll doubles as the attack roll when one is necessary.
  • Recovery is Ongoing: You are always recovering essence points. Resting is not required.

New Attribute: Essence Points

Every character on Aetaltis, even those unable to cast spells, has an Essence Point score. This score represents the character’s store of personal essence. If you are an arcane spellcaster, you may expend these points to cast spells. Your maximum essence points and the rate at which your essence points are recovered are based on your level. The table below shows the rate of essence point recovery and your maximum essence points. You do not need to rest to recover essence points.

Level: This is your character level.

Maximum Essence Points: This is the maximum number of essence points your character can have stored at any time.

Rate of Recovery: This is the rate at which your spent essence points return.

Maximum Safe Spell Level: This is the maximum level of spell your character can safely cast.

Essence Points and Recovery
Character Level Maximum Essence Points Rate of Recovery Maximum Safe Spell Level
1 4 1 per 2 hours 1st
2 6 1 per hour 1st
3 14 2 per hour 2nd
4 17 2 per hour 2nd
5 27 3 per hour 3rd
6 32 4 per hour 3rd
7 38 5 per hour 4th
8 44 6 per hour 4th
9 57 7 per hour 5th
10 64 8 per hour 5th
11 73 9 per hour 6th
12 77 9 per hour 6th
13 83 10 per hour 7th
14 87 11 per hour 7th
15 94 12 per hour 8th
16 100 12 per hour 8th
17 107 13 per hour 9th
18 114 14 per hour 9th
19 123 15 per hour 9th
20 133 16 per hour 9th


Spellcasting Checks

Learning to successfully create glyphs and direct essence through them requires a natural affinity for sensing essence and years of intense training. Even with talent and training, there is always a chance the spell may fail.

Each time you use glyph casting to cast a spell, you must make a spellcasting check.

Spellcasting DC = 10 + Unmodified Essence Point Cost of the Spell

Make the check at the end of the spell’s casting time. If the attempt succeeds, the spell is cast and takes effect normally. If the spellcasting check fails, the spell fizzles out and the attempt is wasted. Either way, reduce your Essence Points by the Essence Point Cost of the spell.

Spellcasting Check Modifiers

Your bonus when making a spellcasting check equals your spellcasting ability modifier + your proficiency bonus if applicable for your class.

Advantage and Disadvantage on Spellcasting Checks

With the GM's permission, positive circumstances may provide advantage when casting a spell. These include:

  • Referencing one’s spellbook while casting the spell
  • Using particularly rare or especially high-quality material components
  • Doubling the time required to cast the spell

Negative circumstances that may cause disadvantage when casting a spell include:

  • Casting without your arcane focus
  • Casting a spell while adjacent to an enemy
  • Casting a spell from horseback or other moving platform
  • Using substandard, damaged, or inappropriate substances as material components
  • Casting a spell when you don't have enough essence points to cover the cost
  • Casting a spell with a higher spell level than your maximum spell level

Critical Success and Failure

If you roll a critical success on a spellcasting roll, the essence point cost for spell is halved (round down). If you roll a critical failure, you still pay the standard essence point cost, but you also make a roll on the Spell Mishap table.

Essence Point Costs for Spells

To cast a spell, you must first form a glyph. Second, you must draw a portion of your personal essence and force it through the glyph. The more powerful the spell, the more essence you must draw to cast it. The unmodified essence point cost to cast a spell is based on its level as shown in the table below.

Spell Level Essence Point Cost
Spell Level Unmodified Essence Point Cost
Cantrip 0
1st 2
2nd 3
3rd 5
4th 6
5th 7
6th 9
7th 10
8th 11
9th 13

Essence Point Cost Modifiers

Certain conditions can modify the actual cost of the spell. The unmodified cost, listed in the Spell Level Essence Point Cost table, is the base cost to cast a spell of that level.

Higher Level Versions of Spells

As per the standard 5E rules for spellcasting, you can cast some spells at higher levels to achieve greater effects. Magic Missile is an example of this type of spell. When casting a spell at a higher level, you must pay the essence point cost listed for the level at which you are casting the spell. Paying the cost to cast the spell at a higher level does not constitute a modified cost as you are still casting the spell at a level you can safely cast per the Essence Points and Recovery table.

Overcasting: Casting When You’re Out of Essence Points

Overcasting occurs when you cast a spell but don’t have enough essence points to cover the cost. When this happens, the required essence is drained from your living spirit. The game effect of this is that the remaining essence point cost is subtracted directly from your hit points. In addition, if you attempt to cast a spell when you don't have enough essence points to cover the cost, you suffer disadvantage on your spellcasting check. You may not choose to overcast if it will reduce your hit points to zero or less, although a mishap that increases the cost of the spell may have this effect.

Casting Spells Beyond Your Safe Level

You may attempt to cast spells that are higher than your maximum safe spell level as shown on the Essence Points and Recovery table. When casting a spell of a level higher than what you can cast safely:

  • You must know the spell and have it copied into your spellbook.
  • You must have your spellbook out for reference. This is a requirement, and it does not provide advantage as it normally does.
  • The spellcasting check is made at disadvantage.
  • The essence point cost of the spell is doubled, although you still use the unmodified cost to determine the spellcasting DC.
  • For each level of difference between the level of spell you can safely cast and the level of the spell you are casting, increase the critical failure range by 1.

Example of Casting a Spell Beyond Your Safe Level

Wysik the wizard and his friends are racing to escape a mob of pursuing orc hunters. Dashing through a doorway and down a side corridor they turn to secure the door behind them, only to realize there is no way to secure it. Although Wysik is only 1st level, he learned the 2nd level Arcane Lock spell on their last adventure. He can only cast 1st level spells safely, but this seems like enough of an emergency to accept the risk of trying something more difficult. The DC for the spellcasting check is determined in the normal way (10 + 3 Essence Point Cost = DC 13), and he'll make his check at disadvantage. Since Arcane Lock is one level higher than Wysik can safely cast, the critical failure range is increased by the difference between the level he can safely cast and Arcane Lock's level. This means that for this check, a roll of 1 or 2 are critical failures. Normally the essence point cost to cast a 2nd level spell is 3 essence points, but since Arcane Lock is beyond what Wysik can safely cast, the spell is going to cost 6 essence points (double the normal cost). Wysik's is currently at his maximum number of essence points, but at 1st level that means he only has 4 essence points. Those last two essence points will have to come out of his personal essence, so when he attempts to cast the spell Wysik will use up all his essence points and also take two hit points of damage to cover the remaining points. Fortunately he still has three hit points, so this wouldn't drop him to zero hit points. He can at least attempt it. With the orcs bearing down, Wysik pulls out his spellbook, takes a deep breath, and begins casting.

Other Differences Between Glyph Casting and Standard 5E Spellcasting

The following are some additional clarifications and differences about how glyph casting differs from standard 5E spellcasting.

  • Arcane Focus: You must have an arcane focus and use it when casting spells. Spellcasting checks made without the use of your arcane focus are at disadvantage.
  • Arcane Recovery: When using glyph casting, Arcane Recovery allows you to double your normal rate of essence point recovery once per day during the period of a short rest.
  • Cantrips: You must still make a spellcasting check to cast a cantrip.
  • Memorization and Preparation: It is not necessary to prepare or memorize spells when using glyph casting.
  • Multiclassing: Determine your essence points by adding together all your levels in applicable arcane spellcaster levels. To determine the level of spells you can cast safely and your essence point recovery, use only your highest arcane spellcaster level.
  • Ritual Casting: The standard 5E rules for ritual casting apply to glyph casting. The difference is that casting a spell as a ritual reduces the actual essence point cost by half (round down). This reduction does not change the difficulty of the spell.
  • Signature Spells: When casting a signature spell make the spellcasting check at advantage and reduce the actual essence point cost of the spell by half (round down). This reduction does not change the difficulty of the spell.
  • Spell Mastery: When casting mastered spells make the spellcasting check at advantage and reduce the actual essence point cost of the spell by half (round down). This reduction does not change the difficulty of the spell.
  • Spell Slots: Glyph casting does not use spell slots. You can cast any spell you've learned.



  • Art and Concept Art by Mitchell Malloy

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To learn more about the World of Aetaltis, check out a full index of our past content posts here!

All game rules published under Open Game License v 1.0a.


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