Poll: Magic!

Earlier this month I posted my initial thoughts on Magic in HD&D. That led to some frank and forthright discussion regarding my solution to the thorny issue of spellcasting, namely Recharge Magic. This prompted a longer and more detailed post on Recharge Magic itself, where I attempted (successfully or unsuccessfully: you decide) to justify the need for the new system, and mollify any concerns that it was a bit crap.

Recharge magic is designed to be the default magic system used by all spellcasters who have to learn their powers. This means that wizards, clerics, druids, psions, sonorists, bards, rangers, healers and paladins would uses Recharge Magic. Those character classes who were born with an innate talent for spell use and never had to apply themselves, fell into the category of instinctive casters: sorcerers, mystics and wilders fall into this category.

Now my ideas for Instinctive Casters are far more woolly. I had four broad ideas that I asked you to have a look at and comment upon. Some of these ideas were a fairly radical departure from the sorcerer we knew. Others were pretty tame. Frankly, I need some guidance as the best way to proceed.

A Call to Arms!

Which brings us to not one poll, but two. I think I can say without fear of hyperbole that these are the most important polls we’ve run for HD&D to date. The magic system represents an enormous amount of time and hard word. We can’t really afford to get it wrong.  I don’t have the time to develop the magic system twice.

So please read once more the section on Magic and Recharge Magic, acquaint yourself with the arguments for and against and then cast your vote in the following poll:

And now, having voted in the above poll it’s time to vote again. This time have a look at the post on Instinctive Magic. How do you want to handle the magical powers of sorcerers? Now is the time to make your views known!

As always if you don’t want any of my ideas, please tell me your own. I’m putting magic to one side for a few weeks, but I will be returning to it by the end of May when I start considering the spells themselves. By then we need a definitive answer on this.

HD&D: Instinctive Magic

The sorcerer. The wilder. The mystic. Three character classes from three different magical traditions. Their commonality is that these characters do not obtain their magical powers by dint of dedication and study. They are born with an innate talent to tap the weave and cast magic. In this post, we’ll look at how to make this a mechanical reality in the HD&D system. My first thought is that it won’t be easy.

Part of me wishes that I had never included sorcerers in the Iourn setting in the first place. Wizards and sorcerers don’t sit very comfortably together in the third edition game. They represent two different magic systems. It’s almost as if the original 3rd edition designers didn’t like the old “Vancian” magic system but didn’t have the guts or the managerial support to do away with it completely.

The problem with my house rules is once you introduce a spell point system for all casters, you are immediately at a loss to differentiate between the sorcerer and the wizard. I included the wizard and the sorcerer in Iourn because they were both in the core rules. I don’t regret it in hindsight because we’ve built a number of memorable adventures on the differences between the two. But it would have been easier if I hadn’t have bothered. I bent over backwards to make the wizard and sorcerer mechanically different, and I don’t think my solution was particularly successful.

I have no firm ideas or solutions of what to do with sorcerers. I am instead going to present a number of options, none of which have been as well thought through as Recharge Magic. Hopefully, one of the ideas will spark someone’s imagination and we can start to run with it. In the following, when I refer to sorcerers I mean “sorcerers, wilders and mystics”. Sorcerers are the class that is most important to the setting and one that we’re likely to finish first. Let’s dive in:

Spot the Difference

Wizards have a potentially unlimited number of spells, but are resticted in how often they can cast them. Sorcerers have no such restriction on casting their magic, but they know less spells. Wizards are more versatile when they have time on their hands, but in stressful situations a sorcerer is the one with all his options open.

This is the fundamental difference between wizards and sorcerers in third edition and the Iourn setting. It’s s distinction that I want to keep in HD&D. In HD&D wizards can learn as many spells as they like, but once they cast a spell they can’t cast it again until they rest. Sorcerers should therefore know less spells (or a smaller variety of effects) but have access to those magicks all the time.

What do we mean by “all the time”? Do we mean that all a sorcerer’s powers are At-Will? I would say not. Giving a powerful spell as an at-will ability is a recipe for disaster. Players of sorcerers will still have to manage finite resources for their spellcasting. Without finite resources then spellcasters really do become too powerful. I hope that everyone can see that.

Option One: Fatigue

Perhaps the obviously solution is that spellcasting simply tires a sorcerer. They could cast their spells all day if their body let them, but they are mortal creatures and frankly it just wears them out to cast magic. This is a similar idea to the one behind the current house system.

At the moment, casting a spell inflicts nonlethal damage on the sorcerer equal to the level of the spell. Therefore spellcasting actively reduces the sorcerer’s hit points. As I mentioned in my comments in the thread on Recharge Magic, I don’t think this works particularly well. On the one hand sorcery is too good – a simple healing spell is all that is required to restore a sorcerer’s spell points. On the other hand, sorcery is not good enough – a sorcerer who finds himself in combat goes down too quickly because both he and his enemy are chipping away at the same hit point total.

However, such a system is not without published precedent. Force users in the original d2o Star Wars game used exactly the same mechanic for their force powers. If d20 Darth Vader wants to batter d20 Luke with telekinetically charged objects on d20 Bespin then the Dark Lord of the Sith takes subdual damage when he does so. Jedi that use the Force to heal themelves take the subdual damage from using the power, and then receive the hit points back with interest when the power goes off.

If we were to use a system like this in HD&D then we would need to use the same subdual/nonlethal damage mechanic employed by third edtion. I haven’t decided whether I want to do this yet – although if we decide that this is how we want to handle sorcery, that alone would convince me to use it. There is also the issue of how well this idea sits along side Recharge Magic.

Imagine a wizard using the recharge mechanic fighting alongside a sorcerer using the same rules we are using at present. Would one overshadow the other? Would you automatically want to play a caster of one type over the other, because the other is just a bit rubbish? If that is the case, then we haven’t found our solution.

Or is there another way to reflect fatigue in the rules without using inflicting subdual/nonlethal damage on a sorcerer? The third edition game has two conditions to reflect general levels of tiredness. Observe:

Fatigued: A fatigued character can neither run nor charge and takes a -2 penalty to Strength and Dexterity. Doing anything that would normally cause fatigue causes the fatigued character to become exhausted. After 8 hours of complete rest, fatigued characters are no longer fatigued.

Exhausted: An exhausted character moves at half speed and takes a -6 penalty to Strength and Dexterity. After 1 hour of complete rest, an exhausted character becomes fatigued. A fatigued character becomes exhausted by doing something else that would normally cause fatigue.

Now, the definitions as they stand are largely useless to us, but what if we could find another way to measure fatigue that didn’t refer to a character’s hit points? Maybe a sorcerer has to roll to cast every spell and failure means that they take on some form of fatigue? This fatigue would have in-game effects and seek to discourage a sorcerer from extended periods of spellcasting?

Of course, this begs the question of why a fighter can wave a two-handed sword around all day without becoming fatigued, while a sorcerer who casts two light spells needs bed rest. Frankly it needs work, but there are other systems out there that do it successfully. Take Shadowrun for example. I’m not completely familiar with it, but I know spellcasters have to roll to cast a spell and have the potential of damaging themselves if they push themselves too far. Could we adapt something from that?

Option Two: Recharge Magic

Let’s not knock the easy way out. If we already have a workable magic system in Recharge Magic, why don’t sorcerers use that as well? They cast their spells in exactly the same way as wizards, have the same recharge problems as wizards and the same solutions to those problems (talents, feats and items). Okay, that would work. But what’s the point?

In this proposal wizards and sorcerers use exactly the same system. So what differentiates a wizard from a sorcerer? If they’re both the same why not just have wizards, or just have sorcerers? Fortunately, we can look back at last two incarnations of the D&D game for some inspiration.

Third Edition followed this route, but it didn’t do it for the wizard and sorcerer. As I have said, in 3rd ed, wizards and sorcerers used different mechanics. For a true parallel we have to look at the Expanded Psionics Handbook and compare the Psion with the Wilder.

In third editin both the Psion and the Wilder use a spell point system. They have the same total spell points. However, the Wilder gains access to power levels slightly more slowly than the psion, and knows less than a third of the psion’s total number of powers. This follows the typical third edition principle. The psion is the wizard (more spells) and the wilder is the sorcerer (less spell). However, they both have instant access to any spell because of the spell point system. On the face of it the psion is king, and the wilder is a waste of time. So what did third edition do to remedy this?

The psion is a classic wizard type character. Psions gain spellcasting and a selection of bonus feats as they gain levels. The wilder is the class with the more interesting class abilities. Wilders have the ability to use a “wild surge”. This means they cast their spells at an elevated caster level. They also get numerous bonuses to attack rolls and saving throws because of the elation of using a wild surge. If they wild surge too much they are in danger of ‘psychic enervation’ and dazing themselves. Wilders also enjoy a better base attack bonus and hit dice than psions.

Is that enough to make the wilder an attractive proposition? I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced, although it does make for quite a flavourful class. However, if we are in a situation (in HD&D) where the wizard has unlimited spells and the sorcerer knows a finite number, then a sorcerer’s class abilities (his talents) are going to have to be pretty damn special to make up the gap. If you consider that spellcasting itself will take up nine of the fourteen talents a character will obtain between level one and level twenty then we immediately hit a wall. Is it even fair for a sorcerer’s spellcasting to take as many talents as a wizard’s does, if the sorcerer gets less versatility and benefit from them?

Okay, what about good old fourth edition? What does it do? The 4e wizard and the 4e sorcerer use exactly the same mechanics. They have the same number of daily, encounter and at-will powers. How do they differ? Firstly, 4e has the advantage of defining their characters by role as well as class. The wizard is a controller, the sorcerer is a striker. Immediately, the player knows that their spells are going to be different. Wizards retain the trappings of the spell books and their implement mastery, while sorcerers gain something else:

4e sorcerers choose between being using Dragon Magic and Wild Magic (presumably they’ll have more choices when Arcane Power is published). This is almost akin to giving the character a bloodline power. Dragon Sorcerers gain bonuses to damage with spells equal to their strength, they become resistant to a specific element and sometimes gain bonuses to AC. Wild Sorcerers are more random. Their defences oscillate depending on whether their attack roll for the round was odd or even. On a natural 20 their spells have additional effects. On a natural 1 their spell goes off at ground zero.

So again, we have a variation on a theme. The mechanics for spellcasting are the same, but the powers of the classes are different. Although 4e is far from a system to hold up in awe, it is full of interesting mechanical solutions. It’s also interesting that both third and fourth edition have chosen to equate free spellcasting (be it a wilder or a sorcerer) with Wild Magic. Could that we a path to take? Could sorcery use the same mechanics as wizardry but just be inherently more random and dangerous? Does that really sync with our intentions for sorcerers?

Remember that sorcerers must be instrinctive casters. Their advantage over wizards is that they don’t need a spell book, they don’t need to study and their don’t need to prepare their magic. That has to be expressed in the mechanics, or there’s not a lot of point in having the distinction in the first place.

Option Three: Bloodlines

Why do sorcerer’s have this intrinsic link to magic? Because they are born with it. Somewhere in their past, lurking in some dark and twisted branch of the family tree, is a creature of extreme magical power. For Iourn, these creatures have always been dragons. Sorcerers are descended from dragons. However, that doesn’t need to be the case. The door is open for sorcerers to be decended from all manner of arcane creatures. It follows that wilders and mystics have their powers from their blood as well. Their could be other origins, of course. Maybe a mystic was present when a god manifested and it left a lingering taint on the character. All things are possible in a fantasy game.

However, all of the above was just flavour in third edition. It didn’t actually have anything to do with the rules. Separate rules for blood lines and half-races were published in Unearthed Arcana, but there was no deliberate attempt to tie them to sorcery. Happily, I am not the only one attempting to overhaul the Dungeons and Dragons game. Let’s take some inspiration from Paizo and their Pathfinder Roleplaying game. It’s probably long overdue.

Paizo were a company that produced third party supplements and adventures for the third edition game. The company decided not to follow the game into fourth edition, and instead produce their own revision of third edition: Pathfinder. If I wasn’t creating HD&D then I would probably adapt Pathfinder. It is better than version 3.5 of third edition, but because it tries to be backwards compatible with the whole of the third edition catalogue it doesn’t actually address the problems I have with the system. The grapple rules are better, though.

Anyway, the Beta Test of the Pathfinder game is free to download from the Paizo site. Get over there and download it if you haven’t already. The published version is out in August 2009, and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy. So what were we talking about? Oh, yes. The sorcerer. Spellcasting in the Pathfinder game works in exactly the same way as regular third edition. However, in addition to spellcasting, each sorcerer picks up a bloodline. Here’s what the Beta version (page 42) says about them:

Bloodlines: Each sorcerer has a source of magic somewhere in her heritage that grants her spells, bonus feats, an additional class skill, and other special abilities. This source can represent a blood relation or an extreme event involving a creature somewhere in the family’s past. For example, a sorcerer might have a dragon as a distant relative or her grandfather might have signed a terrible contract with a devil. Regardless of the source, this influence manifests in a number of ways as the sorcerer gains levels. A sorcerer must pick one bloodline upon taking her first level of sorcerer. Once made, this choice cannot be changed.

At 3rd level, and every two levels thereafter, a sorcerer learns an additional spell, derived from her bloodline. These spells are in addition to the sorcerer’s list of spells known. These spells cannot be exchanged for different spells at higher levels (although variations might exist, with GM permission).

At 7th level, and every six levels thereafter, a sorcerer receives one bonus feat, chosen from a list specific to each bloodline. The sorcerer must meet the prerequisites for these bonus feats.

The bloodlines listed in the Pathfinder game are Aberrant, Abyssal, Arcane, Celestial, Destined, Draconic, Elemental, Fey, Infernal and Undead. In addition to the extra skill, spells and feats the sorcerer picks up a bloodline power at levels 1, 3, 9, 15 and 20. To take an example, the powers granted by the Draconic bloodline are claws, natural armour bonuses, breath weapon, wings and various other draconic immunities, including an immunity to the energy type that makes up your breath weapon.

So, could we use something like this?

If we follow the third and fourth edition route, then wizards and sorcerers have an identical mechanic for casting spells. Wizards have a greater repertoire of spells. Sorcerers have these bloodline abilities. Would that work? And would it work in the context of the talent system in HD&D? And does it fit into Iourn?

The actual bloodlines may need to be tweaked. Surely a character with a celestial bloodline is better a mystic than a sorcerer? But these are small potatoes. We can sort them out after we create a workable system.

Option Four: No Spells!

Consider this option a combination of several of the options above. Both Marc and Daniel have suggested something approaching this in the past, and I think the idea has merit. Under this options sorcerers will choose a source for their power. A bloodline. Each bloodline will give the sorcerer access to a specific suite of feats and talents. In the same way that a warlock’s choice of Pact patron influences the powers and abilities that he has.

Some of these bloodline talents will be the sort of general bonuses or weird tomfoolery that you would expect from any talent. Others will give the sorcerer access to an area of power that is normally the purview of one for more spells. For example: there are many spells that use fire – burning hands, fireball, flame strike, wall of fire, meteor swarm… the list goes on an on. A sorcerer (perhaps with a Red Dragon bloodline) might have a talent called Master of Fire, that allows the sorcerer to shape and utilise fire magic. A sorcerer with that talent inflicts an escalating amount of damage as he gains levels, and can manipulate the fire into various shapes and areas. Related feats could make the sorcerer more proficient at his art. Maybe there’s a feat that allows a sorcerer to lay down a fireball-shaped attack that automatically misses all of the sorcerer’s allies.

How do we limit the use of the power? I’m of a mind that a Recharge mechanic works in this context. Not because sorcerers are like wizards, but because they’re like dragons. A dragon uses his breath weapon and he cannot use it again for a while. Breathing fire diminishes the dragon’s reserves and he has to recharge his batteries before he can do it again. The same might apply for sorcerers.

Perhaps sorcerers can take a talent that allows them to repeat an effect without resting, but doing so fatigues them in someway – or costs them health or hit points. This way the mechanics would underline that a sorcerer who uses too much power begins to cannabilise their own body. The Master of Fire who keeps blasting away at the bad guys eventually atomises himself in an heroic last-episode-of-blakes-seven sort of way.

Or maybe, as a sorcerer gains levels, he gains greater mastery over lower level powers. Maybe a seventeenth level sorcerer could do 17d6 damage with one burst of fire. Doing that much damage causes him to lose access to the power and have to recharge it. But, if he just threw fireballs that only did 5d6 damage, he could blaze away forever?

Under this system the wizard and the sorcerer are very different. The wizard knows a potentially infinitie number of specific spells, but these spells have prescribed effects that the wizard cannot change. The sorcerer is a much freer and spontaneous animal. He doesn’t have the range of the wizard – a sorcerer would be more than just fire spells, but his bloodline would limit the potential number of magical effects he could draw upon – but what the sorcerer lacks in his repertoire he makes up for in his versatility. A sorcerer who can draw on fire magic can send bolts in different directions, blanket an area, form a wall, light a campfire, roast dinner, melt stone and heat marshmellows. All of those actions would be a separate spell for the wizard.

In terms of flavour, this is my preferred solution to the sorcerer.

Now, it isn’t polished. It isn’t workable in its current form, and all the numbers and powers I have mentioned in the above text have been pulled out of my ear. But I think it has potential. Rules for what a sorcerer can and cannot do with his bloodline talents would have to be simple and clear. We don’t want to spend an age adjudicating each new revelation from a sorcerer’s bag of tricks. “I trap the baker in a cage of flame, and then steal his baps!” There need to be limits, probably by level, or even ability-score dependent.

Wilders and Mystics would have psionic and divine flavoured talents, and subtely different effects. Perhaps some bloodline talents would cross over between sorceres, mystics and wilders. There’s no reason why they all couldn’t wield fire is there?

Of course, this option is the one with the greatest amount of work for me and anyone who cares enough to give me a hand.  Could we do it? Would the finished article be worth it?

In Conclusion

Sorcerers cast magic instinctively. How do they do it? Do we have spellcasting impose fatigue on the sorcerer? Do we keep the same spellcasting mechnic, but give the sorcerer different class abilities (talents), perhaps dependent on their bloodline? Or, do we dispense with spellcasting entirely and make sorcerers the unknowable magical force that the background has always suggested they are, even if the rules never backed that up?

There are four options above. Leave your comments and your suggestions. Do you like any of the options, or none of them? Do you have a completely revolutionary option five that will blow us all away? Over to you.

HD&D: Recharge Magic

There’s always opposition to everything I put on this blog. Sometimes I don’t understand it (bows! crossbows! energy damage! aargh!), but there are times when I agree whole heartedly with the concerns raised. The recent discussion on Magic in HD&D is one such example. I fully appreciate where Jon and Marc are coming from on this. My proposals will reduce the versatility and therefore the potency of spellcasters. They seem artificial restictions, and not an organic part of the setting.

This post is designed to mollify those concerns and attempt to convince you that my ideas are for the betterment of the game. If they don’t convince you then please feel free to suggest some alternatives. After this post has festered for a week or two I’ll post a new poll and we’ll have a firm idea where the magic system is going. I would encourage everyone who has played a spellcaster in the existing system to have their say. We should garner opinions from all those clerics, druids, wizards and sorcerers out there.

Where Things Stand

At the moment, spellcasters are divided into two broad categories: those who know how to cast spells by dint of application and study, and those who are born with the ability. Wizards, Clerics, Druids, Psions and Bards fall into the first category, while Sorcerers, Mystics and Wilders fall into the second. 

Wizards, Clerics, Druids, Psions and Bards all have spell points. Each spell has a spell point cost equal to its level, and casters can cast any spell in their repetoire whenever they like as long as they have the spell points to pay for it. Of these only wizards still need to prepare spells in advance – and this method is also freer than the official third edition rules. A wizard can prepare any spell in his repetoire as many times as he likes as long as it is within his spell point limit. So a ninth level wizard with 60 spell points could choose to prepare a fifth level spell twelve times if he so choose.

Sorcerers and their ilk cast spells in a similar fashion but have no spell points. Each spell inflicts nonlethal (aka subdual) damage equal to its level. Sorcerers can continue to cast spells as long as they are conscious. Healing effectively restores their ‘spell points’. Unlike more studious casters, sorcerers have a firm limit on the number of spells they can know. So, although sorcerers could feasibly blaze away with their spells all day they do not have the versatility of a wizard or a druid.

I’ve been using a spell point system since my first Darksun campaign in 1993. The rules for sorcerers were added to the mix when third edition was launched in 2000. As you can see, I’ve been using these rules for a significant amount of time. They are tried and tested. However, I don’t want to use them for HD&D. My reasons for this are twofold:

The first reason is mechanical. Spell Points are fiddly – especially for wizards. I hate the mechanic of preparing spells in advance, it’s just too much hassle for players and far too much hassle for GMs. Because I don’t run a great many ‘encounters’ per day, there comes a point when characters never run out of spell points. This point is not reached at a high level, usually it’s around level nine. The mechanics used by sorcerers are also problematic. I’ve never really been happy with them.

The second reason is more of an aspiration. After so long using spell points, I want to try something else. I want to get away from the book keeping that spell points represent, and create a system that is elegant and seamless. The spell point mechanic is a but clumsy, and I’m sure that we can come up with something that is better. As numerous supernatural abilities in HD&D will use the recharge mechanic it seems appropriate to use that for spells as well.

Magic in HD&D

In HD&D, spellcasters will continue to be divided into the same broad categories highlighted above – .i.e. those who know magic because they have studied it (like wizards and clerics), and those who are born with the inate talent (like sorcerers). The recharge mechanic I am going to reaffirm in the rest of this post is designed for use by the former type of spellcaster. Those casters who need to study dusty tomes or be instructed by enlightened masters will use recharge magic. Instinctive spellcasters will use something else.

What is the something else? Well, I don’t know yet and I’d rather not use this post to pontificate on it as I sense it will derail the discussion. Suffice to say that a number ideas are on the table at the moment ranging from radical to familiar. Let’s climb one mountain at a time.

An Explanation of Recharge Magic

There are those fortunate enough to have been born with the power to wield magic. This ability is usually conferred by heritage or bloodline. The presence of a dragon, godling or other powerful entity on some branch of the family tree is enough to impart an instinctive mastery of the weave. For such creatures plucking the strings of Lolth’s creation is as simple as taking a breath. The precocious ease in which they can master even the most complex incantations is both baffling and vexing to the rest of us.

For those not born with the Gift, the only road ahead of us is filled with years of sweat, toil and tears. Mastering magic by the power of one’s intellect and determination rather than fate-given talent, is extremely difficult. Such spellcasters never truly know magic in the same way that an instinctive caster does. We do not have the same freedom to freely cast our spells. Each magick in our repertoire must be carefully prepared and pieced together. The uncast magic we hold in our minds is a fragile thing. Once cast it is lost to us, until we have the time to remartial our thoughts and focus on the spell again.

Some wizards and clerics can hold onto the pattern in their mind even after a spell is cast, but these talents are far from common and certainly not universal. Even if you could find a spellweaver capable of such a feat, they most certainly could not do it for all the spells they knew. They will have specialised themselves in the casting of particular magic spells. Such application is at the expense of other areas of study they might have developed.

Elgath of Uris, Brightday 205 LE

In game terms all clerics, wizards, druids, psions and bards have to be taught spells. They may teach themselves (by gaining levels or researching new magic), they may employ tuition or they may simply steal what they need. Remember that gods do not grant spells to their clergy: they grant power. Clerics have learned how to use this power to manipulate the weave and cast magic spells. Divine spells are, therefore, the purview of clerics and churches just as primal spells are invented by druids and their ilk. The spellcasting tradition does not affect the mechanics of spellcasting. At least not as far as this article is concerned.

After each extended rest (eight hours of sleep, or four hours reverie if you’re an elf) a spellcaster must prepare his daily spells. This requires an hour’s uninterrupted meditation, study or prayer. Wizards need to consult their spell books during this period, and only have access the the spells they have read over during this hour. It doesn’t matter how many spells there are in a character’s repetoire, an hour is all that is required to prepare them.

During this period, the complex incantations and eldritch formula of the spells are sealed into the caster’s mind in the form of a pattern. How these patterns are understood and visualised differs from tradition to tradition, and even from caster to caster, but the rules for each are mechanically identical. The patterns remain in the caster’s mind until the spell is cast. At the point of casting, the spell is broken and the pattern that held it is in tatters. This means that the spell cannot immediately be cast again.

A character cannot prepare the same pattern twice. If he attempts to prepare a spell that he already holds as a pattern in his mind, the new pattern simply replaces the old. It does not sit side-by-side. Cunning spellcasters have found numerous ways around this limitation, but all of these  methods are specialisations. They are variations from the central theme of recharge magic.

Once a spell has been cast, the caster requires peace and quiet to refocus his mind and repair the patterns in his mind. This is not as arduous a task as preparing the patterns in the first place. A short rest is all that is required to repair and re-prepare all the patterns in a spellcaster’s mind. A short rest is defined as at least five minutes of uninterrupted and peaceful study, prayer or meditation.

A caster can continue meditating and repairing patterns all day if they wish. However, after an extended rest (or any period of sleep or unconsciousness that lasts longer than an hour) they must prepare all their spells from scratch again. During the period of restfulness the patterns held in the mind have completely dissolved, and so the process of preparation needs to begin anew.

Some spells are so simple that the pattern is never lost from the caster’s mind. These cantrips or orisons are always available to casters. If you look at the cantrips and orions from the third edition game, you have a fair idea of the scope of these sorts of spells. Spells such as these are At-Will magicks.

Further Limitations to Spellcasters

In addition to the general limitations that are part and parcel of the recharge mechanic, all spellcasters have a further three restrictions on their magical prowess. All of these can be overcome with patience, planning and forethought.

Spell Availability: All casters start with a selection of first level spells. At each subsequent level they automatically gain one new spell of any level that they can cast. However, this is still a very small number of spells. If the caster wants to learn any more then they must be bought, stolen, taught or researched – and that must be done in game. Cultivating a spell list is something a character works on throughout his career. Although there is potentially no limit to the number of spells a character can know, getting to that stage will be difficult and (hopefully) rewarding.

Components: Some spells have complicated or expensive components. Sometimes these components will be so obscure or esoteric that obtaining them will be a quest in and of themselves. Such spells are rare, and those spells that do have such components will likely have significant, campaign-altering effects.

Casting Time: The most powerful magical spells now have lengthy casting times. Completing a ritual to scry on a foe, or link to a teleportation circle may take many hours. The spell is not cast, and the pattern lost, until the spell is actually cast. You don’t lose the pattern if someone interrupts the casting of the spell (although you may have to start again).

A Critique on Recharge Magic

The recharge mechanic is a very different way of adjudicating and limiting the power of spellcasters. It means that we cannot play spellcasters in quite the same way as we have before. In the present system a character can fall back on their favourite spells. Arvan can hem in errant githyanki with Walls of Thorns until the cows come home, Nicos could cast fireball after fireball until the bad guys fell down. But it is not just offensive magic one has to consider: the humble cure spells are also affected. Although a cleric or druid will be able to heal everyone eventually, they can’t have as profound an impact in the middle of combat as they used to.

Which might altogether be too much for some of you to bear. While I hope that the purple prose above does enough to convince you that this isn’t an arbitrary restriction – that recharge magic can be made to make internal sense within the game world – it is still a restriction. And it may well be a restriction too far.

In the comment thread of the last post, Marc said that he felt the restrictions imposed here were similar to the ones imposed by fourth edition. He felt frustrated that 4e didn’t give him the option of selecting the same encounter power twice, and allowing him to use it more than once per encounter. Now, it’s perfectly true that 4e’s encounter powers are the spritual forbears of HD&D recharge magic. I won’t try and conceal that. It’s also true that spellcasters are generally limited to casting any given spell once in any given fight. However, I would argue that this is not quite the same thing.

For one thing, you are limited to a maximum of four encounter powers in 4e. In HD&D there is no limit to the number of spells you can know. In 4e you can’t use the same encounter power twice in the same encounter. In HD&D there are many ways you can cast the same spell twice before taking a short rest. I’m not trying to create a system that penalises spellcasters in unfounded and frustrating ways. As I said in my last post: spellcasting is still king. Wizards, clerics and their ilk will still command substantially more potent abilities than fighters or rogues.

Recharge magic narrows the gap between spellcasters and non-spellcasters where it needs to be narrowed, and keeps it wide where it should be kept wide. It’s in the interest of the setting and the game to retain the conceit of the all-powerful spellcaster who can level mountains by flexing his pecs. Recharge magic does this, but limits the overcasting of powerful and game-breaking magicks.

Breaking the Rules

I have mentioned above there are ways in which a caster can overcome the restrictions imposed by recharge magic. Jon has urged me to be more specific, so I have taken a stab at a first draft of talents, feats and items that allow characters to cast spells more than once before they have to take a short rest. In the context of the game, these characters can hold onto the patten of the spell for a little longer before it is ripped to shreds.

Have a read and see what you think. These entries are short on flavour and big on mechanics (the finished articles would be more polished), but they should give you the gist.

TALENTS

Familial Spells (Metamagic Talent)
You have trained your familiar to hold spells on your behalf.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisites:
Spellcaster, Summon Familiar talent
Area of Effect: Your familiar
Effect: When you prepare your spells, you are able to store some spell patterns in the mind of your familiar. You can then summon and cast the magic from your familiar’s mind as if it were your own. Your familiar must be present during the hour you prepare your spells. During this period you store spell levels equal to half your level in your familiar. You must select specific spells to fill this spell level pool.
    Once the spells have been stored within the familiar, they can be recalled and cast by the wizard. The act of recalling and casting a spell takes the same amount of time as if the caster was casting the spell himself. If the spell is cast as a standard action, then it only takes a standard action. In order to recall the magic, the familiar must be within arm’s reach of the spellcaster. Once the stored spell is cast, the pattern is destroyed and the spell cannot be recast. If either the spellcaster or the familiar takes an extended rest, the stored patterns dissolve normally. A spell cast using this talent originates from you, and not your familiar.
    For example, Manacus is an eighth level wizard. He can store up to four spell levels in his familiar every time he prepares his spells. He chooses to store fireball (a third level spell) and magic missile (a first level spell) in his owl familiar, Otot. At any point before Manacus’s next extended rest he can recall and cast the spells from Otot as a standard action, because the casting time of both spells is a standard action.

Favoured Spells (Metamagic Talent)
You are particularly skilled in the casting of certain magic spells. You can cast these spells more frequently than your contemporaries.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: Select a number of spells you know. The total levels of the selected spells must not exceed your level or your related ability score modifier (whichever is less). You may cast these spells twice before having to take a short rest. At each experience level you can reallocate these spell levels, selecting a different selection of favoured spells.

Signature Spell (Metamagic Talent)
You are renowed the world over for your skill at casting a particular spell. 
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster, two metamagic feats, 21st level
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: Choose a single recharge spell that you know. The spell becomes an At-Will spell, and can be cast without the restrictions imposed by recharge magic. Additionally, you may modify this spell with a single metamagic feat without affecting the spell’s level. The casting time of the spell remains the same. You must still provide any components that are required each time you cast the spell.

FEATS

Additional Favoured Spells (Metamagic Feat)
Your skill at casting the same selection of spells multiple times is heightened.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster, Favour Spells talent
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: Gain additional levels of favoured spells equal to your level or your related ability score modifier, whichever is less. For example, a wizard with an Intelligence of 18 could have eight levels of favoured spells as long as he was level four or higher.
Special: This feat can be taken more than once. Each time it is taken add further additional favoured spells equal to your level or related ability score modifier.

Critical Recollection (Metamagic Feat)
A particularly potent magical attack allows you to retain the pattern of a spell in your mind.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: Select a magical tradition. When you score a critical hit with any spell from that tradition, the pattern of that spell is not destroyed and you may cast the spell again before taking a short rest.

Distant Familial Spells (Metamagic Feat)
You have a particularly strong link to your familiar, allowing you to recall the spells stored in its mind at great distance.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster, Familial Spells talent
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: The range at which you can draw magic from your familiar increases to 10 feet per caster level. You must still be able to see your familiar in order to draw and cast the spells stored within it.

Enhanced Signature Spell (Metamagic Feat)
You are able to perform even greater wonders with your signature spell.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster, Signature Spell talent, 21st level
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: You may apply up to two metamagic feats to your Signature Spell without increasing the spell’s level.
Special: You may select this feat more than once. Each time you take it you may apply one additional metamagic feat to your Signature Spell without increasing the spell’s level.

Heightened Familial Spell (Metamagic Feat)
You are able to store more spells in your familiar.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster, Familial Spell talent, 11th level
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: When you use your Familial Spells talent you can assign a number of spell levels equal to your character level instead of half your character level.

 

Repeat Spell (Metamagic Feat)
The spell you cast is automatically cast again at the beginning of your next turn.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect:A repeated spell is automatically cast again at the beginning of your next turn. No matter where you are, the secondary spell originates from the same location and affects the same area as the primary spell. If the repeated spell designates a target, the secondary spell retargets the same target if the target is within 30 feet of its original position; otherwise the secondary spell fails to go off. Applying the Repeat Spell metamagic feat to a spell increases the effective level of the spell by 3. If you are unable to cast spells of that power, then you cannot apply this metamagic feat to the spell.

Split Ray (Metamagic Feat)
When you fire a magical ray, you can target two foes instead of one.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster
Requirement: Must cast a spell that takes the form of a ray.
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: When you cast any spell that takes the form of a ray (e.g. disintegrate, ray of frost, finger of death) you can split that ray so that it affects two targets instead of one. The range and the effect of both rays are the same as if the spell was only focused on one target. You must make a separate attack roll on each target. Applying the Split Ray metamagic feat to a spell increases the effective level of the spell by 2. If you are unable to cast spells of that power, then you cannot apply this metamagic feat to the spell.

Twin Spell (Metamagic Feat)
You have the ability to simultaneously cast a spell twice at the same target.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
Prerequisite:
Spellcaster
Area of Effect: Personal
Effect: You can twin a spell. Casting a spell altered by this feat causes the spell to take effect twice on the area or target, as if you were simultaneously casting the same spell twice on the same location or target. Any variables in the spell (such as duration, number of targets, and so on) are the same for both of the resulting powers. The target experiences all the effects of both powers individually, so you must make an attack roll for both spells.  In some cases, such as a twinned charm person, failing both saving throws results in redundant effects (although, in this example, any ally of the target would have to succeed on two dispel attempts to free the target from the charm effect). Applying the Twin Spell metamagic feat to a spell increases the effective level of the spell by 3. If you are unable to cast spells of that power, then you cannot apply this metamagic feat to the spell.

MAGICAL ITEMS

The recharge system gives minor magical items a new lease of life. Potions and scrolls were largely pointless in a spell point system. Recharge magic changes all that:

Potions: Potions can be made from any spell of third level or lower. Imbibing a potion is a free action as long as you have the potion in your hand, otherwise it is a move action. The caster level is set by the maker of the potion. Any deliterious effects that would normally affect the caster of the spell also affect the imbiber. The spell affects the imbiber normally. If it is an attack spell of some sort, the attack must be launched by the imbiber immediately.

Scrolls:  Scrolls are precast spells written on expensive vellum with exotic inks. Any spell can be turned into scroll, and any spellcaster can make a scroll. Reading a scroll takes the same amount of time as casting the actual spell (usually a standard action).

Spell Storing Devices: Some devices are enchanted to hold levels of specific spells in a manner similar to the Familial Spell talent. In HD&D it is likely that spell storing devices will hold less spell levels then we currently see in the game. Somewhere between 1 to 9 levels of spells would be most appropriate.

In Conclusion

Well, there you have it. The talents, feats and items I have listed to bypass the limitations of recharge magic are but a selection; I am sure you can think of many more. The question is do these measures go far enough? Are these abilities nothing more than the proverbial finger in the dyke?

The test of any new rules set is in the playing. Personally, I would be happy to play a wizard under these rules. Or at least that’s what I think now. Someone out there might have a better idea that completely knocks my socks off. So, over to you.

HD&D: Magic

While I continue to beaver away on the skill list (who would have thought coming up with rules for cheese making would take so long?), I thought it well past time to turn our attention to the elephant in the room. Let’s talk about Magic.

D&D is not D&D without magic. Fighter’s need their magic swords, rogues should clammer to have invisibility cast on them, wizards should be able to flash-fry foes by wiggling their eyebrows, and clerics… well, clerics should do whatever their god teaches (none of this namby-pamby all clerics are healers nonsense). Magic is the great defining element in D&D, and it also presents the greatest challenge to HD&D. We need to get his right and, to save us some work, we need to get it right the first time.

In this post, I will give you an overview of magic and how I think it should work in the game. We’ll look again at how the skills system interacts with spellcasting, as well as the different traditions of magic, the spells themselves and how it all comes together. There’s a lot to get through, and a lot of questions I want answered by you, so sit up straight and pay attention.

Spellcasting is King

First: a statement of intent. If, after reading the following, you believe that spellcasters are likely to be more powerful than non-spellcasters then you probably have a point. Of course, spellcasters will have their weaknesses but on the whole a high level mage is so versatile and can throw down so many odd and esoteric effects that he may begin to eclipse other classes.  I’m perfectly happy with this.

By every leap of logic and fantasy convention, magic should be more powerful. I am not going to neuter wizards (or clerics, or psions) because of some misguided sense of game balance. The integrity of the campaign is more important than that. In my experience, the power of magic has not stopped anyone playing a non-spellcaster. I am sure that will continue to be the case.

Yes, I will tweak things to aid the play experience. Hopefully high level magic will not be a means to bypass all roleplaying as it has been in previous editions. However, I see no reason why a rogue should be the combat equal of a sorcerer just because they are both PC classes. I think I have the balance right, and I hope you agree.

How Spellcasting Works

Rant over. I’ve alluded to the mechanics of spellcasting in other posts, but it’s just as well to set everything in one place. Spellcasting in HD&D looks more like third edition D&D than fourth. To some degree this is a legacy issue. I want a game that looks and sounds like D&D. However, let’s not disregard the overwhelming practical concern that the fourth edition system of powers is less than adequate for our purposes. Yes, it works perfectly well in the context of 4e, but I really don’t want to run 4e and most of you don’t want to play it.

Magic is divided into various traditions: Arcane, Divine, Primal, Sonorism, Psionic and Pact to name the most common six. Each of those traditions is governed by a special Spellcraft skill. You use Spellcraft (Pact) to cast pact magic spells, Spellcraft (divine) to cast divine magic spells and so on.

Spellcasting for each class is also divided into a series of nine spellcasting talents. While, the spellcraft skill encompasses a broad spellcasting tradition, the talents are more specific. For example: Wizards and Sorcerers both cast spells from the Arcane tradition. They use Spellcraft (arcane) to cast their magic. However, Wizards and Sorcerers select different talents:

  • Wizardry Level One
  • Wizardry Level Two
  • Wizardry Level Three
  • Wizardry Level Four
  • Wizardry Level Five
  • Wizardry Level Six
  • Wizardry Level Seven
  • Wizardry Level Eight
  • Wizardry Level Nine

and

  • Sorcery Level One
  • Sorcery Level Two
  • Sorcery Level Three
  • Sorcery Level Four
  • Sorcery Level Five
  • Sorcery Level Six
  • Sorcery Level Seven
  • Sorcery Level Eight
  • Sorcery Level Nine

Sorry to spell it out as if my audience is aged five, but I hope you get the idea. Each spellcasting talent gives access to a level of spells. These levels are exactly the same as we had in third and second edition. So a Wizardry Level Nine would give the wizard the ability to cast Meteor Swarm, Timestop or any of those other excessively groovy spells.

In order to select a spellcasting talent you need to be of the correct class, the right level, have the appropriate Spellcraft as a class skill, and also have the preceding talents in the chain. So you can’t select Wizardry Level Nine unless you have wizardry levels one to eight.

It’s possible that some talents may also require certain ranks in a related Knowledge skill, but I haven’t worked out the details of that yet.

Changes to Spellcraft

After having read the above, you will realise that I’m treating Spellcraft differently from how I originally presented it in the post on Knowledge and Magic Skills. Well, I listened to your comments, and I changed a number of things.

I removed the need to know a Knowledge skill to cast spells. I think the mechanic of “make a Spellcraft roll using either your ranks in Spellcraft or your ranks in Knowledge X, whichever is less” is a clumsy mechanic. I intend to excise it from the rest of the skill system too. Knowledge skills remain skills of knowing stuff. They have no inherent connection with spellcasting.

By creating specialist Spellcraft skills for each different tradition, I felt able to fold the function of the Arcana skill into Spellcraft, without making Spellcraft seem too powerful. So the new version of HD&D dispenses with the Arcana skill entirely.

Here is the text of the brand new version of the Spellcraft skill:

Spellcraft (Varies) [Trained Only]

Destroy your foes with fire, ice or thunder. Animate the dead. Snare the mind. Heal the sick. Summon inhuman servants to do your bidding. You are a spellcaster, and there is nothing that you cannot accomplish.

Spellcraft is, quite simply, the ability to cast magic. It is the skill you use to focus the weave and create magical effects. Without Spellcraft spellcasting is impossible. All spell-casters must have ranks in this skill, and would be advised to max out those ranks.

Like Knowledge, Craft, Perform and Profession, Spellcraft is actually a number of separate skills. You could have several Spellcraft skills, each with its own ranks, each purchased as a separate skill. The different Spellcrafts each represent different traditions of magic:

Arcane (wizards and sorcers); Divine (clerics and paladins); Pact (warlocks); Primal (druids, shaman, rangers, healers); Psionic (psions, wilders); Sonorism (phonomancers, bards). Full details of these traditions are given in the section on Magic.

The ability score used to modify Spellcraft varies by class, not by tradition. Int is used by sonorists, wizards and psions; Wis is used by clerics, paladins, rangers, druids, healers and shaman; Cha is used by sorcerers, wilders, warlocks and bards.

Casting Spells: In order to cast magic you must have ranks in the appropriate Spellcraft skill, and have access to the required spellcasting talents. You may need ranks in certain knowledge skills to qualify for some spellcasting talents. Access to the skills or talents of one spellcasting tradition gives you no ability to cast spells from a second.

The section on Talents gives a comprehensive list of all the spellcasting talents associated with each tradition. Often there are unique talents for each class. For example, sorcerers and wizards are both of the Arcane tradition but have their own series of spellcasting talents (sorcery and wizardry respectively).

Full details of the traditions can be found in the section on Magic. A complete listing of all available spells, follows in the Spells chapter.

All spells have unique mechanics. Most are cast as standard actions, although the most powerful may require hours or days to cast. Most spells require a Spellcraft vs. Defence roll to affect a target. The DC of the test is therefore the enemy’s Reflex, Fortitude or Will defence.

Equally, most spells need time to recharge after they are cast, so if you miss you may not be able to try again. At least, not right away.

Identify a spell: If you see a spell of the same tradition being cast you can attempt to work out what it is by making an Spellcraft check against DC 15 + 2/spell level (e.g. DC 33 for a 9th level spell). Doing so does not count as an action. If you do not see the spell cast, but the spell affects you (whether successfully or not) you can also make a roll to try and identify the spell. However, add +5 to the DC in this case.

You can also try to identify a spell from a different tradition. Make the roll normally. If you succeed you do not learn the exact spell, but you do learn the tradition, school and the spell’s power (its level).

Detect Magic Auras: When using the detect magic spell, you use the Spellcraft skill to interpret the spell’s findings.

Decipher Written Spell: You can use Spellcraft to decipher written magical writings of the same tradition, such as spells or another wizard’s spellbook. You must make a check for each spell, and the DC is 15 + 2/spell level. Once you have made the check once, you need never make the check again for that particular magical writing. If you fail, then you can try again after taking an extended rest.

You cannot decipher written spells from a different tradition. However, a successful Spellcraft check will reveal what tradition the written spell is from.

Identify materials worked or shaped by Magic: You can tell the difference between a Wall of Stone and a stone wall. If something has been created by magic a successful check at DC 20 + 2/spell level will tell you. This applies regardless of the tradition that formed the material.

Identify magic item: Spellcraft is used in the process of identifying magic items, however it cannot be used to do so in isolation. Normally divination magicks would also be required. Identification of an item may depend on the tradition that created the item.

Learn a new spell: Most spellcasters know a set number of spells at level one, and then gain an automatic understanding of one new spell per level. If they want to learn any spells outside that, then they must learn the spell. The spell might be bought, found or gifted by another spellcaster (such an another priest in the same church). However, the mechanic is always the same.

You must succeed in a Spellcraft check of DC 15 + 2/Spell level. If you are working from a written source (e.g. you are a wizard) then this check represents your attempt to decipher the spell. If you are taught a new spell through an oral tradition (e.g. you are a druid) then the check represents your ability to absorb what you are being taught.

You spend one day learning the spell. If the spellcaster is a wizard, then this probably involves shutting himself in a room surrounded by dusty tomes. If the spellcaster is a druid then it probably involves sitting in the rain while contemplating the world around him. At the end of the day you make the check as indicated above. If you succeed then you have learned the spell. If you fail the check then you have not learned the spell. You can try again after an extended rest.

You cannot try and learn spells of a different tradition.

What about my Cantrips?

The astute will notice that spells of levels one to nine leaves no room for zero level spells: cantrips, orisons and psionic talents as they were referred to in third edition. I had always intended to have ten spellcasting talents, the first of which gave access to zero level spells, but I made some fundamental changes that meant this couldn’t happen.

I am now determined that HD&D will be a twenty level game, not a thirty level game. None of the underlying maths needs to change, but this means that the crowning ability of each character class now needs to be available from level 20, and not level 30. This gives me less talents to work with.

By level 19, a character will have access to fourteen talents and twelve feats. If a spellcaster wanted to know his most powerful spells by this point then he would have to invest ten of those fourteen talents in spellcasting. Now, spellcasting is awesome, and it would probably still be worth it, but I felt it would be nice to free up one additional talent for wizards and clerics to play with.

I therefore returned to the second edition way of thinking. No zero level spells. All the spells that were of level zero in third edition have been folded into the selection of first level spells. They are not any more difficult or draining to cast (most will be at-will) and everyone’s happy.

Casting Spells

Spells are categorised as either At-Will or Recharge. At-Will spells can be cast continuously without wearing down a spellcaster’s resources. Recharge spells requrie the spellcaster to rest between casting. For example, once a wizard has cast fireball he can’t cast it again until he has taken a five minute rest. This means that a wizard needs to run through his repetoire of spells, and cannot rely on just one spell. It also means that during an extended combat, a wizard could run out of spells.

The other thing to consider when casting a spell, is the spell’s casting time. Most spells take one standard action to cast. However, the most powerful spells may take much longer: minutes, hours or even days.

The HD&D spellcasting system is therefore a happy union between traditional D&D spellcasting and fourth edition rituals. The most powerful and elaborate magic spells are not the sort of thing you can dash off while waiting for the barkeep to pour your pint. These are exhaustive incantations that take time, ready gold and a laundry list of components.

Components? What about components?

Spell Components

Over the years I have come to view spell components as a pain in the rear. Keeping track of them is boring, and so no-one really bothers. Therefore what colour they could lend to a setting is made rather redundant. However, I would like components to play a role in HD&D. So how do we approach this?

In second and third edition components were divided into three categories: Vocal, Somatic and Material. Yes, I know there were more categories in third edition, but they don’t count and I’m certainly not using them.

To my mind the easiest way to handle Vocal and Somatic compoents is to just assume that every spell has them. If a spell doesn’t have them, then it should specifically say so in the spell text. For example, Power Words arguably need only a verbal component, but they are an exception rather than the rule.

Material components are more of a challenge. In 4e, simple spells (the powers) don’t require components at all. The more complicated spells (rituals) do require them, but they have been terribly simplified. Instead of a wizard spell requiring 500 gp of crushed agate, a feather from a hormonal cockatrice and a pinch of iron filings, it just requires 600 gp of “alchemical reagents”.

Now, I was against this flavourless drivel when I first read it, but as I have played 4e, I have noticed that it actually works rather well. For the first time it’s easy to keep track of components. I have to say that if we keep Material components at all then I’m leaning toward this method of recording them.

Obviously, all the details haven’t been ironed out yet. I am sure that powerful spells could still require unique compoents. If you need the tongue of a copper dragon in order to cast a spell to talk to Io then you still have to go and get one.

What do you think? If material components are going to generic then what advantage is there in having them at all? In 4e the cost of the components acts to control the use of the magic. I’m unlikely to go down that road in HD&D, so do we really need components?

Learning New Spells

This is mentioned in the text of the Spellcraft skill above, but it bears a little underlining. One of the major problems of third edition was the number of spells a character knows. A 3rd ed druid or cleric knew hundreds of spells which either meant he had an answer for every occassion, or he spent twenty minutes pouring through eight different sourcebook on his turn during combat.

I propose that all classes start with few spells, and do not automatically gain very many as they rise in level. Once a character chooses their level one spellcasting talent, they gain eight first level spells. From that point on, every time they gain a level, they automatically know one more spell of a level they can cast. All spellcasters be they wizards, druids or clerics are limited in this fashion, so there is parity between all the classes.

Of course, they may still learn, beg, buy, borrow or steal additional spells from other sources. However, the very fact that this has to be done during game time is sufficient to slow down the acquisition of spells. We should never again return to the insane heights of third edition.

Problem Spells

One of the advantages of giving powerful spells a longer casting time is that it limits their use. I’m sure that my players are aware that I have issues with certain spells that are available to high level casters in D&D. These are not the big damage-dealers or the save-or-die effects (although the latter is a problem); I have issues with spells that enable characters to circumvent obstacles and encounters.

Now, I have nothing against a player using a clever application or combination of spells to do something I hadn’t anticipated: that is to be encouraged. It’s when the spells are actively designed to circumvent roleplaying that I have an issue.

There are times in a campaign when something like a teleport spell is very handy to speed things along (we’re at that stage in the League of Light campaign). However, there’s a difference from using that spell to get from A to B and using it to bypass a series of interesting and challenging encounters that the GM has spent his precious time creating.

Divination spells are another example. What’s the point in creating a mystery or a puzzle for the party to solve, just have all the answers available from one casting of a spell?

Powerful spells such as Teleport without Error, Contact Other Plane, Greater Scrying and their like are the reason I don’t like playing high level games. They make it impossible to run the challenging scenarios I want to run. Yes, I know the DMG is replete with advice on to how to get around such abilities, but I don’t want to have to get around them. Why give the PCs something and then list the 101 ways they can’t use it?

These spells make the game boring. The PC spellcaster might feel a small rush of power and smugness, but it’s not to the benefit of the play experience. Isn’t it more interesting to interact with the plot than avoid it? Isn’t it more fun to find out information by talking to NPCs than casting a spell and having the GM tell you everything?

We have a golden opportunity to right these wrongs. We are adopting HD&D over third edition, and the Iourn has now got to a stage where the Weave has been completely rewritten. We can make whatever changes to the way magic works that we like.

Now, I am not advocating getting rid of spells like this completely, I just want to see them reigned in.

The Linked Portal and Planar Portal rituals from the fourth edition PHB1 is a far better way of handling teleport than third edition. Rather than a wizard blipping where-ever he likes he needs to travel from one magic portal to another portal. It creates a magical ‘Stargate’ system. Extraordinarily powerful wizards (level 28 in 4e-speak) are required to duplicate the effects of a fifth level third edition teleport spell.

As for powerful divinations, let the casting of such a divination be an adventure in itself. Maybe the PCs need to travel to a far off oracle, or collect unique components related to the question at hand. Never should a powerful divination be an off-the-cuff casting.

Polymorph and Summoning

Here are two types of spells that often cause problems – not because they are too powerful, but because they slow the game down to an absolute crawl. Who hasn’t seen a wizard turn himself into an owlbear and then spend the next fifteen minutes recalculating his ability scores, skills and other statistics?

My solution to this thorny issue is not revolutionary. I intend to do away with Polymorph, Shapechange and like spells and replace them with a suite of separate spells. Rather than Polymorph we might have Panther Shape or Proctor’s Amazing Spell of Rodent Transformation. Polymorph becomes a descriptor, not  a single spell.

Likewise, Summoning spells won’t give you a choice. There will be no such thing as Monster Summoning VI. Instead we will have spells such as Summon Elemental, Summon Basilisk and Summon Pot Pourri. I’ll merge the “Summoning” and “Calling” descriptors from third edition. I prefer the Planescape way of thinking: that all summoned creatures have to come from somewhere.

Magic Items

Creating and making magic items has been a staple of D&D for years, and I want to retain this element in HD&D. However, I prefer to run games in low-magic worlds where magic items are a rarity. This is why most  of the magic items in my ongoing third edition campaigns have been made by players. 

Magic items in HD&D must confirm to the following broad rules:

All magic items are unique. Magic items are significant. Even the lowliest of them will have its own origin, legends and place in history. There are no generic magic items.

No flat bonuses. Magic items will never confirm static bonuses to hit, damage, defences, ability scores or the like. There is no such things a +1 Sword. These sort of bonuses cripple the system. We either have to inflate DCs to accomodate them (if which case anyone without a magic item is shafted), or we keep DCs as they are (if which case those with items are at a strong advantage, and those without magic items are still shafted). It is my belief that we can come up with interesting and colourful powers for magic items without resorting to anything as dull as a +2 ring of protection.

So how do you create a magic item? In second edition it was a spell. In third edition it was a series of feats. In fourth edition it was a ritual. In HD&D, creating magic items will be a series of unique spells, each spell will only be good for creating a certain type of magic item.

For example, there might be a spell called Forge Holy Weapon that allows the caster to create a holy sword.  The spell would only be available to clerics, it would be of such a level that a holy sword couldn’t be introduced to the game until the game was ready, and casting the spell would be a pretty serious ritual requiring unique components, money, time and perhaps the odd quest.

By creating a unique spell for every magic item then we have complete control over the availability of magic items. PCs could create their own spells to create their own unique items. It’s creative, and will lead to imaginative magical devices, not simply utilitarian ones.

In Conclusion

These are my initial thoughts on magic. Please tell me what you think. I’m particularly looking for opinions of material components, but all comment on any aspect of this post is welcome.