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


  • 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.


21 thoughts on “HD&D: Magic

  1. Neil,
    Yes – I like.

    I do however have questions.

    1. How for example will you convert the Brew Potion Feats and the “create wondrous items” feat the LoL Party members have?

    I know you don’t like many magic items in your games – and this is mostly controlled by Marc and INdran having most of them and not being able to use all of them at the same time (Joke).

    But I do have concerns that PCs cannot as easily create Magic Items without quest spells. The cynical side of me says this won;t be such an obstacle for the NPCs…..

    Also – what about experience costs for item creation – is this going to continue – or will item creaiton be simply a matter of imbuing an item with the spell…. this also leads me onto the question of master crafter items – do they keep their crafting bonus when imbued with magical properties?

    So – I love the magic system as a whole – I have concerns about items.
    Also – Sorcerers – do they cast off hit point? Are they restricted like wizards such that their spells are “recharge”. Could Ravenna continue to dump out disintegrates like she does now until she runs out of hits points?


  2. Ah, questions.. questions…

    I hadn’t thought about potions to be honest. There’s a few options here:

    1) Have a “Brew Potion” spell that enables you to make any spell of levels 1-3 into a potion.

    2) Fold potion brewing into the Alchemist talent. If you have the Alchemist talent and you are a spellcaster then you can brew potions of the spells you can cast (of levels 1-3).

    3) Create a specialised Brew Potion talent. I’m rather unwilling to do that, as it doesn’t seem to sit well with the rest of the rules.

    I’m sure that the rest of you can think of other ways that we can handle this. I’m leaning toward the Alchemist route, but only because it seems neater. I realise that we have a potion-brewing druid in the party, and he’s not really cast in the lab-rat idiom. Any ideas?

    As for the other magic item creation feats… I think I would just have to be generous with comparable spells that reflected the sort of items the PCs had already created. Researching how to create a magic item should be a big deal, and should be tricky. But it shouldn’t be any trickier than researching a new spell. Of course, I don’t have rules for that either, so stay tuned.

    NPCs will follow the same rules as PCs in this regard. Of course, NPCs can always do the research for magic items “off screen”, which may make it seem as though they have an easier time of it.

    There’s going to be no XP cost for creating magic items. I should have made that clear in the entry above. Any PC who has made magic items can have an XP rebate when we convert to HD&D.

    I’m also unclear exactly how masterwork items will function (I sense you may be thinking of the +3 mundane bonus to hit enjoyed by Ravenna’s rapier). Any bonus to conferred by a weapon runs the risk of destabilising the game’s delicate maths. However, I’m not entirely sold against the idea. I’m working on the Craft skill at the moment, it’s something I’m considering.

    The Sorcerer

    Gods we need to sort out the sorcerer. If we decide that the sorcerer casts spells at all (and the above entry assumes that she will), then I’m keen for them to use the same mechanic as everyone else. Spells are either at-will or recharge. There would be no converting spell-levels into nonlethal damage.

    In that case, the answer would be “no” Ravenna couldn’t just stand there and cast disintegrate after disintegrate. However, spell-storing items certainly will exist in HD&D. Ravenna will therefore still have the rod she got from the Saldarím, so she would still retain some of her versatility. Equally, you would be able to specialise in a spell (using a feat) to be able to cast it more than once before you had to rest.

    However, the jury is still out on whether the instinctive spellcasting sorcerer should know formal spells at all. If she does know spells, then we have to work hard to differentiate the sorcerer from the wizard. As it stands at the moment, there isn’t much difference.

  3. ok – what about the rest of me questions.

    1. Sorcerers and repeatable spells.
    1b. Wizzards and fireball – a wizzard could “memorize” 2 fireballs in current system – why shouldn’t they be able to do that in HD&D – seems a little unfair – I refer you to your own “if I were an evil overlord”
    “80. If my weakest troops fail to eliminate a hero, I will send out my best troops instead of wasting time with progressively stronger ones as he gets closer and closer to my fortress.”

    Start with you best spells and rinse and repeat!

    Why should a wizzard/sorcerer be restricted to just one of their best spell?????

    2. Experience to make items?
    3. Craft wonderous items?
    4. Sorcerers and hit points?
    5. Superior crafted items and magical imbuage.

  4. I was distracted in the middle of writing my reply, and the only way to save a comment is to submit it. I hope I’ve covered the rest of your questions now!

    Why can’t a wizard memorise the same spell repeatedly? Well, this is my reasoning behind magic.

    For warlocks, wizards, clerics, psions, bards, druids, rangers and paladins magic is a learned skill. They study, or they pray or they are taught by their fellows or extraplanar entities. Therefore they never truly *know* magic. They just know how to use magic to create effects.

    Every day these casters will need to spend some time in meditation. Wizards study their spell books, clerics pray and druids sit in the mud and hum quietly to themselves. They go through their spells and mentally fix these incantations in their mind.

    When they cast these spells they don’t forget them, but they no longer have the incantation set in their mind. It’s like losing your place in a book. They need a five minute rest to reset the spell before casting it again. Special feats might give some characters an edge on this process.

    Which is all a great argument for sorcerers, wilders and mystics to use a completely different system entirely, as their magic just doesn’t work that way. Answers on a postcard…

  5. Nope sorry Neil.
    Still liked the system where Wizzards would choose which spells they would know for the day.

    Why not extend you argument and make clerics roll randomly for which spells their deity grants them on a daily basis…..

    It seems like you want to force spellcasters to cast lots of different spells as it more interesting to you. Sorry that doesn’t wash with me.

    I don’t use my spade to cut my lawn because last time I used the mower and I want to be interesting! You use the best tool for the job – and if you as a wizzard can see a bit of a fight coming up you would plan accordingly …….

    Another example – Ravenna has Chain Lightening, Cone of cold and Disintegrate.
    Chain Lightening is used for larger groups where our mates are involved in the fight. Cone of cold when I can get my spell off first and our “men” are not engaged yet. Disitegrate is used for one on one.

    Now (and assume the Ravenna is a wizzard here with access to same spells) – if I understand you correctly (and please flame away if i’m widely of mark here) – in the future, in a fight with a group I could only cast Chain Ligthening once, Pick of one other with a disintegrate and hope our boys make the reflex save with the cone of cold… when in reality – Chain Lightening;Chain Lightening, Chain Lightening is the way it would work.

    Ok – I think I really dislike the RECHARGE idea.


  6. Yes, you’re right. Assuming the rules stay as I’ve written them Ravenna would be restricted in casting Chain Lightning once, Disintegrate once and Cone of Cold once.

    My motivation in changing the system isn’t to make it more interesting. It’s just to make the book keeping easier. Having used spell points for the best part of 17 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are an unnecessary layer of complexity. The recharge mechanic removes the need for any book keeping other than remembering the spells you have cast.

    Preparing specific spells in advance is just a big pain. I removed all preparation from the game except for the wizard class, but let me assure you that preparing spells in advance for a high level wizard (even using my house rules) is time consuming, frustrating and not much fun. Ask Marc how he enjoyed manipulating Tam’s spell list, or Daniel how much he enjoyed deciding what spells Carith had access to each day.

    (Marc and Daniel are now going to post comments saying how much fun and how easy it was)

    The logic behind wizards in my exisitng third edition house rules were that they did not have the versatility of the other spell casting classes. If a wizard didn’t prepare Chain Lightning twice then he couldn’t cast it twice regardless of how often it might be needed.

    The Recharge mechanic introduces that limitation to all the classes. It is a little closer to the spirit of the second and third edition rules than we have ever played before. The problem is that it’s a step back in power and versatility for every other spell casting class.

    My preference would be to have the recharge mechanic as the default spellcasting method for all magic users who have to learn how to cast magic (as opposed to those born with the ability). With the Recharge rules as the baseline, we can then introduce all those clever little exceptions that D&D excels at.

    But if we don’t do that, then we need an alternative. Any suggestions?

    Do we go back to spell points and preparation, I think that idea will have more detrators than supporters. Do we just say that all spells can be cast At-Will and the only limitation on what you can cast are the cost of components and the Casting Time of the spell? That’s likely to create over powered spell-casters.

    Any better ideas? Anyone?

  7. Just a little note…

    One thing I (and I believe Graham) HATED was the fact you couldn’t take the same power twice, even when a lower level ability was more useful. This has the same vibe, it may allow easier book keeping but detracts from the versatility that was part and parcel of the wizard.

    High level casting is a pain in the ass when choosing things to memorise – aka Tam. But now you’re going to get fireball, ice ball, acid ball… just to get over this ridculous (and effectively) once per encounter use of spells.

    The 3e weight of choice was something that we hit and I remember you despirately tried to claw back into some semblance of reality. Well done, good idea but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    It may be more useful to go back a number of steps and go for a maximum number of spell levels a character can know (like 2e) and cast a la sorcerer – yes I know spell points but encompassing knowledge rather than just casting.

    Starting with a limited list of spells (and not inflating the list without in-game research – be mean), standard incremental access allowing upgrading and repetitions.

    Carve off rituals (anything with a casting time longer than an encounter) as not requiring memorisation as lengthy magic does not work the same and they cease to be an accounting problem

  8. I’ve highlighted the recharge mechanic in HD&D before without opposition. A dragonborn’s breath weapon works this way. The dragonborn breathes, and then can’t use the breath weapon again until he’s taken a five minute rest. He can use it more often if he takes the right racial feat. Why is the Recharge mechanic okay for that and not for spellcasting? Why should they be different?

    I don’t really want to use a different mechanic for what is effectively the same thing. If we want to find something other than the Recharge system for spells, they we have to find the same thing for all the other talents (and feats) that use it.

    Now to answer Marc’s points:

    One thing I think we can all agree on is there has to be some limit placed on the number of spells a character can cast. We can’t simply allow spellcasters to cast magic at will for as long as they like. The question is how we apply that limitation.

    I really like the idea of a spellcaster with an enormous repetoire of spells. It plays into the archetype of a wizard whose shelves are lined with spellbooks. I’d rather not say that a character can know X levels of spells and never any more. That strikes me as equally artificial as the recharge mechanic.

    I also don’t want to have two tiers of magic. I don’t want to make the distinction (as 4e does) between spells and rituals. I don’t see why they should be different. Rituals are just spells that are more trouble to cast.

    So what are we left with?

    1) Spell points.

    2) Fatigue. Spellcasting in some way weakens or otherwise incommodes the spellcaster. He has to recover before he can cast spells again.

    3) Some other brilliant mechanic that no other roleplaying game has eve thought of?

    As far as I can work out, the main problem you are having with the Recharge mechanic is that you cannot cast the same spell twice on succesive rounds. Is that the only problem we have with it? That most spells have become (to use 4e-speak) Encounter Powers?

    Is such recharge magic completely a lost cause, or can we salvage it in some way?

  9. Neil.

    1. Dragon Breath : Must understanding is that this is more of a physiological restriction. They have to rebuild the physical store of cold/fire/acid that their bodies produce before letting rip again. Not a factor of some interaction with the weave.

    2. The system in 3e was’t broken – it was just perceived as a pain in the butt to memorize so many spells.

    Why not say that your total spells points are divided into 2 pools of magic points – the upper pool and the lower pool. The Upper pool is the spells point for your top 3 casting levels – and you must memorize these spell points. The lower pool are the remaining spell points for all your lower levels – which are now so easy you can cast them “at will”. This way you partially restrict the total amount of death dealing spells that can be cast. You reduce the book keeping. But you don’t restrict the spellcaster from having their best spell twice.

    I really think that recharge breaks the verasimiltude of the world – how could I repeat any of what Ravenna did in the last Retreat under the new rules – I couldn’t – therefore broken (my opinion).


  10. To continue my above point: can we keep the recharge system (which I think mechanically works very well) and find some way to allow casters to cast certain spells multiple times?

    I have already suggested using feats or spell-storing devices. In such a system scrolls and potions also become more useful. Learning the same spell twice doesn’t sit well with the system I have in mind.

    Is this really such a bad idea? Downpowering spellcasters and reducing their versatility is probably to the benefit of the game, not detriment. Is the system logically ridiculous? I don’t think it is. I need more convincing on this point.

  11. Jon: But the way magic works has changed since the last retreat, so what Ravenna did before is irrelevent. Plus with the quickening ring and the spell storing rod, and Nicos’s mortar, Ravenna could still have produced much the same effects as before.

    I think the 3rd edition system (my house rules, not the official rules – which we’ve never used) did have some flaws. Remember, only wizards had to prepare spells in advance, all the other classes cast freely from their pool of available points. No-one apart from wizards had the pain of preparing spells in advance, so it’s not just that point that I’m addressing.

    Your solution to have two pools of magic points is similar to the Free Magick and Fixed Magick system from Player’s Option: Spells and Powers – a second edition sourcebook. It might work as a short term fix for high level wizards in the context of an ongoing third edition game, but isn’t something that’s applicable to all classes.

    The fact is that once a character gets to 11th level he never runs out of spell points, so all spells effectively become at-will abilities. The depth of choice is also a significant problem. These things need to be addressed.

    The recharge system restricts a caster from unleashing the same spell twice in succession, but it doesn’t make it impossible. The difference of opinion here, I think, is whether all spells should be available all the time or whether a spellcaster chooses certain spells or incantations that he is better at casting, and can therefore cast more often.

    Think of metamagic feats like “Twin Spell”, “Repeat Spell” or even something akin to the sorcerer’s Favoured Spells class ability where you can choose a certain number of spells and be able to cast them multiple times before taking a short rest.

    Doesn’t this lend itself to a greater choice and differentiation between characters? Look there’s Nicos: he’s a fireball specialist. Ravenna can cast a fireball too, but not as often as Nicos can. Ravenna specialises in Voice of the Dragon, or Disintegrate instead. Does this not have some merit?

  12. Neil.

    IMHO : you shouldn’t include magic items in your argument.

    The rules have to work for a spellcaster with NO toys.
    Also you shouldn’t need feats to cast a spell more than once in a combat!

    Take away the quickening ring and the spell storing rod (the mortar is…. oh yes – in the hands of Elias), and Then look at what Ravenna (i’m using Ravenna as an example not purely as a selfish point) could do in a combat.
    1 Chain Lightening ; 1 Disintegrate ; 1 prismatic ray (hoping that saves are failed) ; if really lucky a line or area appears for lightening bolt or cone of cold but that seems unlikely in the Chaos of combat…. so 3 rounds, maybe 4 if lucky. Then go hide….

    it really doesn’t sit well with me – even the base D&D rules were better than that.

    Also – take Nicos ; Flame strike was his bag IIRC, your saying he could only cast that once! no this really doesn’t work.

    I ask this question : why can a wizard remember chain lightening & disintegrate in their head ; but not CL & CL or Dis & Dis? the point of the wizard is they intelligent folks with ordered minds.

    As a wizard if this were the case i’d just invent 2 / 3 variants with the same effect but different names so I could cast the spell more than once. Sorry Neil this just seems like a “clunky game mechanic” that doesn’t flow with how a Spellcaster would go about the process of learning spells.

    Why not just go back to spell points.
    Force Wizzards to have a spell book from which they must memorise their spells – can limit the number of spells a book can have – and force each wizard to attune to a spell book to learn from it.

    Also – for he druid/cleric classes force then to build their spell lists in the same way as wizards/sorcerers?
    I.e. you build the full spell list for a deity : and each level a cleric must pick a number of spells that they know from the list – you can then control the total number.

    Ok – another thought – sorcerer are supposed to be able to manipulate the weave “naturally” into the form of a spell – why can’t they do the same thing twice!

    I will of course bow to the majority – but I thinks this idea has serious flaws!

  13. Reagrding sorcerers, you have a point. But it was always my intention to give sorcerers (and wilders and mystics) a different mechanic anyway.

    You say why can’t a spellcaster learn a spell twice? Well, that’s just not the way that it works. A spellcaster learns a spell. Once he’s learned it, he knows it forever. The point is not learning it twice, but casting it twice in succession. The spell is held in the caster’s mind. Once it’s cast it takes a little time for the caster to refocus and gain access to the spell again.

    While you could spend your time inventing variants of magical spells just so you can have the same effect 2-3 times, if would probably be much easier just taking the feat or the talent that lets you do it anyway.

    Your suggestions for limiting spell selections and have clerics and druids build their spell repertoire in the same way as wizards is exactly what I intend to do. Great minds and all that.

    The point is that all spell casters would have the option to customise their character so that they could cast their signature spells, like Nicos’s fireball, more frequently. The baseline would be fire and forget (until you took a short rest).

    And personally, I think that magical items should absolutely be part of the argument. If magic has limitations then it’s completely in keeping that wizards and clerics would invent minor items (such as scrolls and potions) to get around the limitations.

    I really don’t want to go back to spell points. I don’t like the book keeping, and I want to reduce the versatility and power of all spellcasters. A time lag to recharge magic has struck me as an elegant solution, not a clunky one. Yes, spellcasters will work differently than before, fight differently than before and plan differently than before. But is this a bad thing?

  14. I go back to a previous argument : are you going to make the fighters use different weapons each round until they’ve had a chance to rest?

  15. I think it’s perfectly fine for different classes to work differently. Fighters have a limited number of abilities and styles they can use all the time, spellcasters have a broader repertoire of spells but are limited in how frequently they can cast them. That’s the same conceit we have been using, it’s just that spell points weren’t very limiting.

  16. Ok – I think I’m prepared to be converted if you provide me with the feats you need to make the duplicates happen.

    I still feel uncomfortable – but I can see your argument.
    If there were tangible feats to allow for duplicate spells etc then I think it could be ok….

    I reserve the right to be sceptical – but I feel I should follow my own maxim and trust you – you have been doing this a long time.

  17. I will work on a few talents and feats and post them to the blog in the next few days. I see exactly where you (and Marc) are coming from on this point. I think there’s a conceptual difference between having a recharge mechanic for magic but not for anything else. However, I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this.

    Hopefully, we’ll get a few more comments on the matter and then, after I’ve posted the further options, we’ll turn it over to a poll.

  18. Some comments from Neil:

    I have finally managed to catch up with your blog. Generally speaking I like your ideas on magic though thorough play testing will be required to see if it is de-stabilizing in combat. Your question about components, which no-one else seems to have answered, I think that generally speaking they are a pain and add nothing to a game, a novel is different. However, I agree with you that there should be some spells that require unique components and should be obtained through questing.

    I agree with you about the game breaking spells and agree that they too should be quest related.

    Onto magic items. I have always hated the artifciality of having a certain spell cost 600 gp, or whatever, just to limit its use, it is clunky and lacks imagination. The time and effort should be proportional to the power of the spell and therefore the power of the item. You could then have the situation of wizards setting up shops selling scrolls, potions, wands of magic missile etc. but power magic items would only be comissioned by Kings and the like and would require unique spells components, a lot of time and perhaps a physical investment by the maker? This limits the number of powerful magical items whilst keeping the ability to pick up a wand of sleep relatively easily. All truly potent items should have a history and unique story to them but they could have originated from a wizard creating them in the first place. Perhaps the item then “awakens” and gains more abilities as it “grows”?

  19. Ah, someone read the blog entry and answered the questioned I asked. It brings a lump to the throat.

    I think that certain spells will have specific and unique components. These may be easy to come by, or not depending on the setting. Most spells may still need components, so a spellcaster separated from his components will have a hard time conjuring anything. But the components of lesser spells can be genericised in the same way that 4e does it, in order to speed the game along. Most will have neglible costs, and will probably be factored into the Upkeep rules if I can get them to work to my satisfaction.

    Monetary cost has long been used by D&D as a means to ration the casting of powerful spells. Frankly, I don’t think it works all that well – although fourth edition is by far closest to making it work.

    My basic idea for magic items is that they are created by the casting of a powerful spells. Therefore creators need to a certain level in order to begin to create any given item. In addition to the spell, the caster will need to assemble the appropriate components that may have to be purchased, quested for, or simply stolen.

    “A physical investment by the maker”? Well, wizards had to lose a point of Con every time thety created an item in second edition’ and in third edition all magic item makers had to sacrfice experience points. Are you proposing that we go back to something like that? I’m not approving or disapproving at this stage, I’m just asking!

    Magic items growing more powerful is the subject of a third edition sourcebook called Weapons of Legacy. Worst book ever published for third edition by the way. My opinion is that some magic items might well do this, but it probably shouldn’t be a feature of all items.

  20. Neil says:

    I don’t like components for anything other than power spells, it is a waste of time in a similar fashion to money in the system. You play fantasy games to get away from budgets!

    My idea about magic items was that you would have both minor magic items that could indeed be created and sold by low level magic users and more powerful items that require unique components, quests and as I said perhaps some sort of physical investment from the caster. This would mean that the basics are available (essential IMHO for any high fantasy setting) but more powerful items are limited. I don’t know what form this physical investment might take but I would suggest not XP as that is silly. Con or HP seems the likeliest.

    I didn’t mean that all magic items would “grow” just the really important/powerful ones, what AD&D refer to as artefacts I guess (surely anything created by someone is an artefact?).

  21. While I largely agree with you about money and components, there are times when they are useful tools in the game. Components are inherently flavourful. The trappings of components are part and parcel of the quintessential wizard. Even if they have no mechanical value, there is still an argument for having them. Equally we shouldn’t underestimate poverty as a catalyst for adventure.

    Regardless of how we decided to handle money, there needs to be some form of economics in the game. In a riding horse costs 75 gp, then we need some measure to tell if a character can afford to buy such a horse or not.

    I’m pretty much against making the creation of any magical item an easy task. If it’s not a potion or a scroll, you’re not going to see it for sale. Yes, there will be exceptions, but on the whole Iourn is not a high fantasy setting.

    As far as governing the creation of powerful magical items is concerned I think that caster level and time are the sufficient limitations. I’d rather not start penalising characters with Con or hit point loss. If it’s only temporary then there’s no point. If it isn’t temporary then it quickly turns a PC into an unplayable mess.

    Technically, “artefacts” are magical items that no-one can create. They are either all that is left over from a bygone age, or they are created by the gods. Even the most powerful magical items can’t do what artefacts can do.

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