It’s been a while, but now that the retreat is out of the way I feel as though I can devote more time to the blog. The remainder of the Combat section is still pending, but I’ll get around to it in due course. In the meantime, I have been more closely considering Sorcerers in HD&D.
Those of you who have suffered through the last year of blog posts will recall that we have been down this road before. Previous posts on HD&D: Magic, HD&D: Recharge Magic and HD&D: Instinctive Magic all touched upon this area. However, no decision was made over how we were going to handle Sorcerers in HD&D. Until now. But first let me quickly remind you of where we stand at the moment.
Innate vs Acquired Magic
Broadly, magic falls into two different categories: those who are born with the intrinsic skill to cast spells, and those who work and study their whole lives to master the art. Most spell casters fall into the latter group. Wizards, Clerics, Druids, Rangers, Paladins, Bards and Psions have no instinctive understanding of magic. These are the classes that use the Recharge mechanic for spellcasting, as discussed in many previous posts. Sorcerers, Mystics and Wilders are examples of the former group. They were born knowing how to cast spells, and as such the mechanic they use for spellcasting is rather different.
The difference between these two fundamental magical divides is easily summed up. Those that practice acquired magic have no limit on the number of different spells they can know. However, they can’t repeatedly cast the same spell. Once a spell is cast then it becomes unavailable until the acquired caster has rested. For innate casters the situation is reversed. They know a finite number of spells: a fixed total that they can never exceed. However, they can cast the spells they do have access to at will.
And if you think this makes sorcerers too powerful, then read on.
The Magical Traditions
In addition to the way in which they cast magic, all spell-casters can be grouped into specific magical traditions. Their “Power Source” in 4e-speak. The most common traditions would be: Arcane (Wizards, Sorcerers); Divine (Clerics, Mystics, Paladins); Primal (Druid, Healer, Ranger); Psionic (Psion, Psychic Warrior, Wilder); Sonorism (Bard). Spellcasters within each tradition will share certain characteristics, even if they are innate or acquired casters.
So although sorcerers, mystics and wilders will have mechanical similarities as they are all innate casters, the classes are more likely to ressemble others from the same tradition. The Wilder, for example, would have more in common with the Psion than with the Mystic. Or to put it another way, the Sorcerer will feel like an arcane character first, and an innate spellcaster second.
The Arcane, Divine, Primal, Psionic, and Sonorant traditions will all share unique mechanics that set them apart from each other. Primal magic has the whole Darksun preserver/defiler vibe about it. Psionic characters will be able to supercharge their powers at the expense of their mental health in a way that other spellcasters cannot. But the actual rules for casting, retaining and casting spells again, will still depend on whether the class is an acquired or innate caster.
This blog post considers the mechanics for innate spellcasting, and then looks at the Sorcerer in isolation. As a result of this I often use the term “Sorcerer” and “Innate Spellcaster”; and “Wizard” and “Acquired Spellcaster” interchangeably. It all still makes sense though.
How Innate Casting Works
Just like wizards, a sorcerer’s spellcasting powers come from his talents. There are nine Sorcery talents (imaginatively named Sorcery I through to Sorcery IX). Selecting a talent gives the sorcerer access to next level of spells, and also increases the number of spell levels that she knows. For example, a sorcerer who has Sorcery I gains access to two spell levels. That means she can know two first level spells, and only two first level spells. If her charisma score is high enough, then she may get bonus spell levels to add to this total. Each time a sorcerer gains a level she has the power to reallocate a number of spell levels equal to the highest level spell she can cast – effectively ‘forgetting’ some spells in favour of others.
As an aside, cantrips are level zero spells. They don’t count against your spell levels. Access to cantrips is unlocked by the Sorcery I talent. Sorcerers know a number of cantrips equal to 4 + half their level (rounded down). They acquire new cantrips as they gain levels. A twentieth level sorcerer is therefore likely to know 14 cantrips. Which is probably most of the ones available in the game.
When that sorcerer selects Sorcery II as a talent (prerequisite Sorcery I and 3rd level) the number of spell levels increases from 2 to 6. She gains an extra four spell levels. She can divide these up between any levels she likes, as long as she doesn’t know any spells of greater than second level. So the sorcerer who selects Sorcery II could gain two first level spells and one second level spell, two second levels spells, or four first level spells. At the other end of the scale, Sorcery IX gives the sorcerer access to spells of levels one to nine, and a total of 142 spell levels. Which is a lot, but doesn’t come close to the number of spells a wizard of the same level would know.
Obviously, feats and talents will exist that enables the sorcerer to modify his number of available spell levels. That should be taken as read by this stage. I’m merely laying down the bare rules for you. Feats and talents always create exceptions to those rules.
Once the sorcerer knows the spell, she has the power to cast it at-will from that point on. No running out of magic missiles or fireballs if you’re a sorcerer. You should be able to blaze away all day. Well, you should but you can’t. You see, innate spellcasting is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. A sorcerer that keeps casting spell after spell after spell is likely to get plumb tuckered out. My third edition house rules had spells inflict subdual damage on the sorcerer equal to the level of the spell. Easy to keep track of, but not particularly satisfying. In HD&D, we’ll try something a little different.
The Act of Casting a Sorcery Spell
Every time a sorcerer casts a spell (except a cantrip) the sorcerer must make a Will saving throw. The DC of this save is dependent upon the level of the spell being cast. If the saving throw is failed, then the sorcerer’s health moves one step along the Languor Track on his character sheet. This doesn’t have any effect on the character’s hit points, but the more saving throws that are failed the more deleterious conditions are heaped on the sorcerer, until the character reaches a point where further spellcasting is impossible without rest. The Languor Track has five stages that are defined thusly:
Rested: The first stage is the default setting of a rested sorcerer.
Weary: Fail one saving throw and the sorcerer becomes Weary. Being Weary has absolutely no game related effects. It is only important in as far as it is the next step on the way to more significant conditions. If the sorcerer is able to take a short rest (five minutes) then he stops being Weary and resumes the Rested condition.
Fatigued: A Weary character that fails a saving throw becomes Fatigued. For consistency’s sake, this condition is exactly the same as Fatigued as defined in the combat section. A fatigued character can neither run nor charge, and takes a -2 penalty to all defences, saving throws, skill checks and ability checks. Doing anything that would normally cause fatigue, causes the fatigued character to become exhausted (q.v.). After one hour of complete rest, Fatigued characters become Weary.
Exhausted: A Fatigued character that fails a saving throw becomes Exhausted. Again, this is same condition that we have already described in the Combat section. An exhausted character cannot run or charge, and moves at only half speed. He also takes a -5 penalty to all defences, saving throws, skill checks and ability checks. After an extended rest (about eight hours), exhausted characters become Fatigued.
Unconscious: If an Exhausted character fails a saving throw, then they fall unconscious. Unconscious characters fall Prone, cannot take any actions and are Helpless. They may be attacked automatically, and are susceptible to coup de grace or similar attacks. Unless otherwise revived, the sorcerer remains unconscious for about five minutes before awakening. When he awakens he still has the Exhausted condition.
As you can see, the Fatigued and Exhausted conditions apply negative modifiers to the sorcerer’s saving throws. Therefore when the sorcerer starts to succomb to the enervating effects of spellcasting, the process quickly accelerates. So what are the DCs of those Will saving throws? Glad you asked:
|Spell Level||Will Save DC|
The DC is set to be Easy for a skilled character. The game assumes a first level sorcerer is likely to have +5 on her Will saving throw, meaning that the save will be made 75% of the time. Characters with higher than average Ability Scores, or who augment their Will defence with the Iron Will feat or other advantages will have an even easier time of making the saving throws. However, a natural 1 is still a failure. The spectre of failure is still hanging over the head of every sorcerer.
And before any one asks: ninth level is still the most powerful spell you can cast. But caster level is dependent upon your character’s overall level in HD&D. A 30th level character with the Sorcery IX talent could cast a spell with an effective level of 15th, by stacking numerous metamagic effects on the same spell.
The Sorcerer’s Heritage
A sorcerer has more tricks up his sleeve than just spellcasting. All sorcerers have their magical power for a reason. Maybe they inherited it from an ancestor, had it gifted to them by a deity, or had it thrust upon them after handling an ancient artefact. The origin of a sorcerer’s power is called his Heritage, and all sorcerers must choose one at first level (or at the point of multiclassing). This Heritage enables the sorcerer to choose certain special talents and feats that are denied to other sorcerers.
The rules for Sorcerer Heritage borrows heavily from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. You can have a look at the Pathfinder Open Gaming Licence for how that game handles Sorcerer Heritage, or “Bloodline” as they call it (which is a cool name, but Bloodline means something else in HD&D).
Most sorcerers in HD&D will come from the Dragon Heritage. That is the default position. In the current campaign, Elias Raithbourne’s sorcerer powers undoubtedly come from a Dragon Heritage. Other possible heritages would include Aberrant, Celestial, Demonic, Destined, Diabolic, Elemental, Fey or Undead. The “Arcane” bloodline described in the Pathfinder rules doesn’t sit well with my understanding of how magic works on Iourn. Other heritages (even unique heritages) are certainly possible. For example, Ravenna is the only known example of the Potentate Heritage. The first draft of rules for Potentate sorcerers will be winging their way to Jon shortly.
Each heritage allows gives a character access to about five talents and ten feats that they can choose to take if they so wish. For example, sorcerers of the Aberrant Heritage can choose the talents Aberrant Scion (better at casting Polymorph spells), Aberrant Form (transform into aberration), Alien Resistances (resistant to poison and acid), Bile Strike (shoot stomach acid at foes), Gangling Form (elongate your limbs), Tentacular Attack (grow tentacles) and so on. All this would be in addition to the spells they know. I’m surprising far along in working out the details of Sorcerer Heritages, and I’ll hopefully be posting some meat before too long.
To a degree this approach to sorcery can be seen as a cop out. Back when I made my initial post on Instinctive Magic, I gave you four options of the way that Sorcery could work. I have, perhaps, chosen the least imaginative of the four. However, it is in keeping with what we currently have in third edition. Sorcerers still cast spells from the same spell list as Wizards. It’s comfortable, and it doesn’t rock the boat too much. It’s a system that isn’t a million miles away from either third edition or Pathfinder, and there’s a lot to be said for having a system that works as opposed to one that is simply flavourful.
As for whether it will work… that’s another matter. I’d like to give it a shot. A sorcerer needs to “roll for languor” every time she casts a spell. That does mean more die rolling at the table. That may be a problem. But the sorcerer isn’t the sort of class that makes many multiple attacks per round. Having a sorcerer sitting at the table would be more dice heavy than a wizard, but less dice heavy than having a fighter or a monk. A poor run of saving throws has the potential to cripple a sorcerer in short order. I’m not sure if that’s a problem, or whether if should be considered a feature.
So what do we think? Will this work?