Instinctive Casters – a Final Decision

Right, ladies and gentlemen. The time has come to put this whole business of instinctive spellcasters behind us. Ever since the release of third edition gave us the Wizard and the Sorcerer, it’s been a bit of a thorn in my side having two distinctive rules for magic users. But, that’s the version of D&D we’re playing, and I don’t intend to mess about with anything quite so fundamental. The rules for Acquired casters work well, but their Instintive counterparts – the sorcerers, wilders, oracles, inquisitors and hexblades – are still lacking solid mechanics.

In this blog post I’m going to present a number of choices of how the system can go forward. Some of the options are very similar, but all have their distinct advantages and disadvantages. At the end of post is a poll in which you can vote. While reading through this post, I’d ask you bear in my the core concept of the instinctive caster -whatever class or tradition she is from. Namely:

The instinctive caster is a magic-user who knows a limited number of spells, but can cast any of her spells repeatedly.

How we interpret that is key to how the class will work. Where acquired casters know many spells, but can only cast each one once before taking  a short rest, instinctive classes know less spells but don’t have the acquired caster’s limitations. If they want to cast fireball nine times in a row then they can. However, casting spells “repeatedly” is not the same thing as casting them without limitation. We may decide that some limit per day (or per encounter) should be placed on the instinctive caster’s powers.

We also need to look at the number of spells an instinctive caster can have access to in the system. Should it be less than they have now? Should “Spells Known” be a block of spell levels from which the player determines which spells of which level the character knows, or should it be more prescribed with the character only being able to learn x number of spells of a certain level? The number of different spells available will influence whatever spell-casting system we choose. The more generous we are on how often the instinctive caster can use his magic, the more limiting we might want to be on the number of spells he has access to.

Proposed Instinctive Magic Systems

I’m going to try and keep this as simple as possible. First we’ll look at the different systems we can use for instinctive casters and then a little further down the post we’ll examine the number of spells such a caster should know. Everyone ready? Off we go.

Option 1: Freecasting

This does exactly what it says. The casting of instinctive spells are free. Aside from casting time or availability of components, there is no limit to the number of times per day an instinctive caster can unleash her magic. She could cast fireball once per round, every round, throughout her entire waking hours. Or to put it in fourth edition terms: all her spells are “at-will” abilities. After all, casting a spell is no more tiring to a sorcerer than swinging a sword is to a fighter – so why regulate it all? Give the sorcerer her glory! Let her be a living battery of spell energy.

There is actually precedence in the system for this approach. The invocations of the third edition Warlock were all at-will spells. And these weren’t a few measley cantrips – these were proper game-breaking magicks: shadow walk (at will!), baleful polymorph (at will!), Evard’s black tentacles (at will!)…. the system has born this excess once, why not again? It’s not as if the Warlock was a forgotten experiment like the Healer or the Wu Jen. It was one of the notable successes of third edition. Why not borrow from it?

Of course, the Warlock knew significantly fewer spells than a sorcerer. Using the rules as written, if we compare a 20th level sorcerer and a 20th level warlock , the sorcerer would know a big bag of cantrips plus six spells of each level from one to nine (54 spells in total); while the warlock would know three spells of each of his four invocation levels – least, lesser, greater and dark – for a total of just 12 spells. A massive reduction in versatility, but perhaps the price what would need to be paid for this system to work?

Pros: This system is really simple to implement, because it’s not really a system. The character has spells, she casts them…. end of story. No other option on the list is more evocative of the sorcerer’s role as a being of magic.

Cons: Cast spells at will? Are you crazy? Even if the number of spells known was limited to warlock levels, the warlocks had a deliberately small list of abilities to choose from… bards, sorcerers and oracles have a much larger pool of potential spells from which to make their choice. Who knows what bizarre combinations of mutually beneficial spells players can come up with? It won’t all be all mage armour and fireball. And don’t get me started on spells that augment the sorcerer and his friends. If spells like bull’s strength or heroism could be cast at will, wouldn’t they be running all the time? Wouldn’t the sorcerer use detect thoughts on everyone he met? That might make sense as a logical progression of the sorcerer’s role, but it’s not much fun in a roleplaying game is it? Or is it?

Option 2: Subdual Damage

This is the system we used for sorcerers on Iourn from 2000 until 2010. The casting of a spell inflicts subdual damage onto a sorcerer equal to level of the spell. Subdual damage was renamed nonlethal damage in version 3.5, and has retained that name into Pahthfinder. However, the mechanics of how subdual damage works hasn’t really changed. You can read about it over at the Pathfinder PRD if your need a reminder.

Once again, this isn’t a system that I just plucked out of the air. Well, I did – but it’s so obvious that Wizards used it as well. This is the system that is used in the first d20 Star Wars roleplaying game for Force Users. When such characters tap into the Force, they gain nonlethal damage. So there’s precedence within the d20 system for this sort of thing. Why not just return to this?

Pros: The subdual damage system is tried and tested. A very similar system to this has actually be used in a d20 product. And it has the benefit of making use of rules that already exist and are supported in Pathfinder. Plus after eleven years, all the players are very familar with it.

Cons: There are two main problems with this system. The first is that nonlethal damage is restored by simply casting a healing spell. This means that as long as sorcerers have allies who can heal them they effectively have infinite spell points. In fact, once they get hold of vampiric touch, they do have infinite spell points. That’s certainly problematic. However, a more glaring flaw is how this system interfaces with the multiclassing system. Taking a one level dip into sorcerer or oracle becomes disproportionately useful. Because spellcasting is tied to a character element that is unrelated to your class (i.e. hit points) any level in any class makes you better at spell casting. The Oracle 1/Fighter 19 is not noticeably worse at fighting than a Fighter 20. However, the former has a handful of first level spells that he can effectively cast at will: what’s 1 hit point of nonlethal damage to a character with more than 200 hit points? So we have a fighter who can can effectively cast cure light wounds restoring 1d8 hit points at-will. Third edition is based on the premise that you have to have levels in a related spellcasting class in order to get better at spellcasting. The subdual system turns that on its head. It’s not how the system was designed to work, and that’s largely why I got rid of it. You might think that was a mistake.

Option 3: Spell Points per Day

I don’t know why it never occurred to me to use spell points for instinctive casters before. I must have had a mental block. The spell points system was what we used for Acquired casters prior to HD&D. Now acquired casters are happily using the recharge mechanic, this leaves spell points free to be used for something else. In a traditional D&D spell point system, the number of spells a caster can cast in a day is converted into a spell point total. Casters can then cast any spell they know at a cost in points from this total.

There have been a few spell point systems in D&D before. Netheril: Empire of Magic from second edition saw a very similar one to my house rules. In third edition we had the Psionics Handbook, the Expanded Psionics Handbook and the new Pathfinderfriendly psionics update that’s being produced by Dreamscarred Press. Traditionally my house rules have had a spell-point cost equal to the level of the spell being cast. The psionics material had a spell point cost equal to the level you needed to be to cast it. So a 9th level spell cost 17 spell points to cast. That’s a decision that can be made if we adopt spell points, but we should consider spell points on its own merits first.

In this system the caster is given a big bag of spell points each morning after 8 hours rest. He can then use those spell points on his magic throughout the course of the day. If he runs out of spell points then he can’t replenish them until the following morning – or until he receives eight hours of rest. And yes, there could be feats that gave you extra spell points.

Pros: It’s spell points. I’ve used them in all my D&D campaigns since 1993. We know they work. There’s probably no more simple mechanic for regulating magic use beyond not having any rules at all. Instinctive casters still have the freedom to cast what they want when they want, but they need to be careful they don’t burn through all their magic in one go. After all, casting spells is spiritually tiring. You need a good night’s rest to recharge your arcane batteries.

Cons: There’s a trick to balancing spell points at high level. What we have found as the game as progressed is that high-level casters have too many spell points, which means they can effectively cast what they want whenever they like. So we would need to look at exactly how many spell points a higher level character really needs.

Option 4: Spell Points per Encounter

These are Jon’s flux rules as seen in the last blog post. The idea is that we still have spell points and they work in the same way as Option 3 above. The difference is that casters have less spell points, and these points return after a short rest (five minutes) instead of an extended rest (eight hours). And when I say “less spell points” I mean many less spell points. Maybe 2 points per class level, plus your Charisma bonus if you’re a sorcerer.

Now, this fits in with the way that Acquired casters work. After all, it only takes a five minute rest for a wizard to ‘re-learn’ all the spells in his spell-book, so why shouldn’t it take the sorcerer the same amount of time to reset her spell points? I can certainly see the logic there, the question is can you?

As a brief aside, Jon mentioned the idea of instinctive casters being able to “overcast” their magic beyond normal limits. That’s definitely not off the table, but it’s an added complication that we don’t need at this point in the design process. If we decide to go with spell points (option 3 or 4) then we can discuss overcasting then.

Pros: We know spell points works, and this new way of looking at them may be what’s needed to keep them fresh in the system. It brings Instinctive casters on par with Acquired casters. They both now regain their spellcasting powers in the same amount of time. It also preserves the mechanics of the languor system, in that a short rest remains important to instinctive casters.

Cons: Reducing a character’s spell points to something that works on an encounter basis looks like a limitation: but is it really limitation? Even if an instinctive caster finds herself in fights where she blows through all her spell points, she’ll still get them back five minutes later. My main worry with this approach is that how it affects things outside combat. Is the instinctive caster likely to use her powers more often than she otherwise would, knowing that a short rest is all that is required to get them back? Or could this argument also be applied to Acquired casters, and is therefore a non-argument?

Option 5: Languor (Classic)

This is the system we’re using at the moment. The idea is that all instinctive casters can cast the spells whenever they like, but every time they cast a spell they need to make a languor check. Fail the check and they get progressively more weary until they fall unconscious. We’ve had problems with this system for a while, and I don’t perceive that it’s a very popular solution. The main stumbling block has been finding a fair level for the DCs of the languor check – something that applies to all characters of all classes.

In this version of the Languor system we try and keep things as close to how they have been before. The languor check is rolled on 1d20 + caster level + ability score modifier, and compared to the DC on a table. The higher the spell you’re trying to cast, the higher the DC. Casters are divided into three groups: those that cast their spells over nine spell-levels (e.g. sorcerers); over six spell-levels (e.g. bards); and over four spell levels (e.g. hexblades). Each group has their own languor check table with different DCs. Characters that multiclass between intinctive casting classes, use the table appropriate to the spell they are casting from the class they are casting them from. Failed languor checks make a character Weary, Fatigued, Exhausted and Unconscious as before.

Pros: It mimics the way the actual rules work in the book pretty well, but at the same time gives instinctive casters the ability to cast spells ad infinitum. It introduces an element of uncertainty into instinctive casters: their magic is not reliable. It also marks them out as very different to Acquired casters, which must be a good thing.

Cons: There’s a lot of dice rolling. An instinctive caster might well have to make a Concentration check, a Languor check and an attack roll just to cast one spell. Isn’t that too much to ask? Plus, I haven’t got the DCs for the languor right so far… do we have any faith that I’m going to do a better job this time? Also, it’s very complicated having multiple tables for different classes. Too complicated, in my opinion.

Option 6: Languor (Static)

This was my proposal in the last post on this blog. Basically, we accept that the DCs for the languor checks are never going to work so we just include a static figure. A character has a 25% of succeeding on a languor check for the highest level spell he can cast. The chance then improves by 5% for each successive diminishing spell level. So a 17th level sorcerer would have a 25% chance of making a languor when casting a ninth level spell, but a 40% of making the check when casting a sixth level spell. The system could be personalised, a little, by adding the ability score modifier as a percentage into the roll.

Pros: Many of the same pros as Option 5, but with the added assurance that this version of the languor system will work as we want it to work.

Cons: We still have an issue with the excessive rolling dice. Additionally, one size fits all is not always the best approach. The inability to modify the languor check, and personalise it with feats and the like seems contrary to the spirit of third edition. You may find this approach a little soul-less.

Option 7: Languor (4e-style)

We simplify the languor system even further. Forget your level, your class, or even the level of the spell you’re casting. Let’s do away with having a languor table at all, and instead use the same mechanics as the fourth edition saving throw. You have a 50/50 chance of making a languor check. You either succeed or you don’t. Flip a coin, or roll a d20 (11 or more is a success). You fail languor checks as often as you make them.

Pros: It’s very simple. No tables to consult, no modifiers to add. Just roll the dice and you’re done.

Cons: It’s like Option 6, only more so. If you disliked option 6 for taking away customisation and choice, then you’ll really hate option 7.

Spells Known

Right then, that’s the options for spellcasting out of the way – but how many spells should the instinctive caster actually know? Should it be less or more than they do now? Should the number of spells of each level be prescribed, or should the instinctive caster be able to choose from a pool of Spell Levels known? And how do we derrive the Spell Levels? Lots of options here:

Option 1: Perscribed Spells (Rules as Written)

The first option is that we use the rules as they are written in the book. Surely we can’t go wrong with issues of game balance if we simply take the rules as presented in the Core Rules. Can’t remember what they are? I’ve reproduced the relevent tables below. They are slightly modified by my house rules so sorcerers/oracles potentially gain access to new spells at odd numbered levels like a wizard.

‘9-level caster’ – The Sorcerer

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 4 2                
2 5 2                
3 5 3 1              
4 6 3 1              
5 6 4 2 1            
6 7 4 2 1            
7 7 5 3 2 1          
8 8 5 3 2 1          
9 8 5 4 3 2 1        
10 9 5 4 3 2 1        
11 9 5 5 4 3 2 1      
12 9 5 5 4 3 2 1      
13 9 5 5 4 4 3 2 1    
14 9 5 5 4 4 3 2 1    
15 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 2 1  
16 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 2 1  
17 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 3 2 1
18 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 3 2 1
19 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 3 3 2
20 9 5 5 4 4 4 3 3 3 3

‘6-level caster’ – The Bard

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 4 2          
2 5 3          
3 6 4          
4 6 4 2        
5 6 4 3        
6 6 4 4        
7 6 5 4 2      
8 6 5 4 3      
9 6 5 4 4      
10 6 5 5 4 2    
11 6 6 5 4 3    
12 6 6 5 4 4    
13 6 6 5 5 4 2  
14 6 6 6 5 4 3  
15 6 6 6 5 4 4  
16 6 6 6 5 5 4 2
17 6 6 6 6 5 4 3
18 6 6 6 6 5 4 4
19 6 6 6 6 5 5 4
20 6 6 6 6 6 5 5

‘4-level caster’ – Hexblade

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4
1 2        
2 3        
3 3        
4 4 2      
5 4 2      
6 5 3      
7 5 3      
8 5 4 2    
9 5 4 2    
10 5 4 3    
11 5 4 3 2  
12 5 4 4 3  
13 5 4 4 3  
14 5 4 4 4 2
15 5 4 4 4 3
16 5 4 4 4 3
17 5 5 4 4 4
18 5 5 5 4 4
19 5 5 5 5 4
20 5 5 5 5 5

Under these rules, the instinctive caster gets a prescribed number of spells per day. There is much less freedom to pick and choose. For example, a seventh level sorcerer knows five 1st level spells, three 2nd level spells, two 3rd level spells and one 4th level spells. Under the current rules I’d simply give them 21 spell levels and tell the the player to select spells accordingly. Under the rules as written there is much less freedom. The sorcerer’s repetoire cannot have more than five 1st level spells regardless.

There is a little flexibility in that players can choose to learn a lower level spell instead of a higher level one. So the seventh level sorcerer could know six 1st level spells, and only two 2nd level spells if he wished. In the rules as written, high ability scores do not affect the number of spells you can know.

Pros: It’s the rules as written. We know that they are balanced. It’s not something we’ve really tried before in the game, so it might feel fresh and a bit different.

Cons: It’s not very ‘realistic’ from a real-world point of view. Why is my 20th level sorcerer limited to knowing only six 1st level spells? I can cast <i>meteor swarm</i> why can’t I cast <i>mage armour</i>? It also limits the ways in which a player can personalise her character.

Option 2: Prescribed Spells (Diminished)

This is the same as Option 1, but drastically reduces the number of “Spells Known” for the instinctive caster. This seeks to replicate the much smaller repetoire of the Warlock class. The number of spells per day known would be as follows:

‘9-level caster’ – Sorcerer

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 2 1                
2 3 1                
3 3 1 1              
4 3 1 1              
5 4 1 1 1            
6 4 1 1 1            
7 4 1 1 1 1          
8 5 2 1 1 1          
9 5 2 1 1 1 1        
10 5 2 2 1 1 1        
11 5 2 2 1 1 1 1      
12 5 2 2 2 1 1 1      
13 5 2 2 2 1 1 1 1    
14 5 2 2 2 2 1 1 1    
15 5 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1  
16 5 3 2 2 2 2 1 1 1  
17 5 3 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1
18 5 3 3 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
19 5 3 3 3 2 2 2 1 1 1
20 5 3 3 3 2 2 2 2 1 1

‘6-level caster’ – Bard

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 1 1          
2 2 1          
3 3 1          
4 3 1 1        
5 3 1 1        
6 3 1 1        
7 3 1 1 1      
8 3 2 1 1      
9 3 2 1 1      
10 3 2 1 1 1    
11 3 2 2 1 1    
12 3 2 2 1 1    
13 3 2 2 1 1 1  
14 3 2 2 2 1 1  
15 3 3 2 2 1 1  
16 3 3 2 2 1 1 1
17 3 3 2 2 2 1 1
18 3 3 3 2 2 1 1
19 3 3 3 2 2 1 1
20 3 3 3 2 2 2 1

‘4-level caster’ – Hexblade

Level Spells Known
0 1 2 3 4
1 1        
2 2        
3 3        
4 3 1      
5 3 1      
6 3 1      
7 3 1      
8 3 1 1    
9 3 1 1    
10 3 1 1    
11 3 1 1 1  
12 3 2 1 1  
13 3 2 1 1  
14 3 2 1 1 1
15 3 2 2 1 1
16 3 2 2 1 1
17 3 2 2 1 1
18 3 2 2 2 1
19 3 3 2 2 1
20 3 3 2 2 1

Pros: Much the same as Option 1 above.

Cons: Again, like Option 1 – but even more so. Instinctive casters with access only to this number of spells per level might feel as though they cannot create an effective character with so few tools to work with.

Option 3: Spell Levels (Classic)

I’m all for giving PCs the freedom to customise their characters as they see fit. If that means a 20th level caster who knows a hundred 1st level spells and nothing else, then so be it. The Spell Levels system takes all those “spells per day” from options one and two and simply converts them into a pool of spell levels from which a character can select his spells. This table simply converts the rules as they are written into spell levels. So a character with access to four 1st level spells, and two 2nd spells has eight spell levels.

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

Sorcerer

2

2

5

5

11

11

21

21

35

35

55

55

77

77

103

103

127

127

144

153

Bard

2

3

4

8

10

12

19

22

25

35

40

44

57

64

69

85

94

100

105

115

Hexblade

0

0

0

2

2

3

3

7

8

10

16

21

21

32

36

36

41

43

46

50

Pros: There’s a lot of freedom here for players. They get to decide how their character is built. It also adds relative weight to spell knowledge. A 9th level spell is worth nine 1st level spells. It seems to make sense.

Cons: This freedom may lead to unbalanced characters and instinctive characters whose spell lists are simply too long. After all, it’s the advantage of the acquired caster to have an enormous repetoire of spells. With 153 levels worth of known spells, a 20th level sorcerer is going to be equally as versatile as a wizard, isn’t she?

Option 4: Spell Levels (Rounded)

Spell Levels are all well and good, but converting them directly from the published rules for spells known presents a few anomalies. The progression isn’t very smooth. The rules I am currently using for instinctive casters is to polish the progression so that the learning curve is more appropriately spaced out over a twenty level progression as follows:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

Sorcerer

2

4

6

10

14

18

24

30

36

44

52

60

70

80

90

102

114

126

140

154

Bard

2

3

4

6

8

10

14

18

22

28

34

40

48

56

64

74

84

94

106

118

Hexblade

0

0

0

2

3

4

6

8

10

13

16

19

23

27

31

36

41

46

52

58

The rounded progression sees a more even progression of spells. It means the bard gets slightly less over the mid-to-high levels, and that the sorcerer gets slightly more over the low-to-mid levels. Ultimately, the number of spell levels the character gets at the end of the progression is not very different than option 3 above. But it’s tidier.

Click on the link below to see a comparisson between options three and four in graphical form:

Spell Graphs

Pros: I think this makes for a fairer distribution of spell caster knowledge over twenty levels. If we’re going to use a spell levels system, there’s no reason why it should be slave to the rules as written. It’s a different system, so we can make it different. Otherwise, it has the advantages of option three.

Cons: As with option three, there’s the potential here that the instinctive caster simply knows too many different spells.

Option 5: Spell Levels (Diminished)

This takes the spell levels system presented in Option Three, but significantly cuts back on the spells that are available. Consider it a companion piece for Option Two. Under that this system, this would be total of know spells:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

Sorcerer

1

1

3

3

6

6

10

11

16

18

24

27

34

38

47

52

63

69

72

79

Bard

1

1

1

3

3

3

6

7

7

11

13

13

18

21

22

28

32

34

34

39

Hexblade

0

0

0

1

1

1

1

3

3

3

6

7

7

11

13

13

13

16

17

17

Pros: All the benefits of the spell level system applies. However, this progression takes great efforts to reduce the versatility of the instinctive caster.

Cons: Versatility may have been smothered rather than simply reduced. Characters know very few different spells at low levels, which isn’t particularly desireable. The progression could be tweaked to make for a more even progression – although I’m not going to do that work unless someone shows particular interest in this approach.

Option 6: Total Spells Known

The psionics system for D&D works on largely a spell-point basis. The number of powers an individual psionicist knows is based on a figure called “Powers Known”. This is a total of all the powers in a character’s repetoire. It is not a list of spell levels from which you shop for spells, nor is it prescribed to a certain number of spells per level. It is somewhere in between. For example, a 20th level Psion knows 36 spells. These can be any spells of any level that she is capable of casting – as limited by rules for retraining and the like.

Under this system, these would be the number of spells know by our instinctive casters at each level:

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

Sorcerer

3

5

7

9

11

13

15

17

19

21

22

24

25

27

28

30

31

33

34

36

Bard

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

Hexblade

0

0

0

3

3

4

4

5

5

6

6

7

7

8

8

9

9

10

10

11

Basically the sorcerer uses the psion progression, the bard uses the psyhic warrior progression, and the hexblade uses a modified wilder progression. As with all the options here, your ability score does not influence the number of spells you know, only the number you can cast in a day.

The Polls

Okay, here we go. If you’ve waded through the mountain of text above, then thanks very much. This is where you can vote on the options available. There are two polls: one concerning the system we use for casting spells, and a second for how we determine the number of spells the instinctive caster has in his repetoire.

Ideally, I’d like to link the results together – so as well as voting could please also leave a Comment indicating how you voted. You may want a Freecasting system that uses the Total Spells Known. If you don’t tell me in the comments how the options you have chosen combine, then I won’t know what you meant!

Poll on Proposed Instintive Magic System

Poll on Spells Known

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29 thoughts on “Instinctive Casters – a Final Decision

  1. I think Neil, that you need to get over your worries about “outside combat”.
    Any high level “Acquired” Caster will have access to all the same spells that a “Instinctive” caster does (knock etc) and they can reset afetr a 5 minute rest. So fundamentally – the only difference between the 2 caster types is in combat.

    To me it boils down to
    Wizard : more versatile : less repeatability.
    Sorcerer : less choice : more repeatability.

    so taking that statement : pick your poison that best suits.

    By removing the book-keeping and 8 hour limit of the wizard you break out of combat anyway.

    if you want to limit out of combat spell casting I think you should.

    1) Return wizards to daily spells : which they must learn/specify every morning and cannot change until the next day.

    2) Make sorcerers play as per book (no pre-choice – but a daily limit)

    anything else and you are compromising out-of-combat (This is my opinion)

  2. Time is also a factor, though. There was a session we played back in the Notoriety of Kings campaign when the party and their dwarven guides were trapped against a rock face by an approaching goblin army. The goblins were about a mile away and closing fast, and there was no way out but up.

    The rocks were too smooth for most of the party to climb, but Ravenna cast spider-climb repeatedly on everyone, providing a way out just in the nick of time.

    Now under the recharge rules we use for Acquired Casters, that wouldn’t have worked if Ravenna had been a wizard. She could have cast spider climb eight times, but in the time it took her to re-prepare the spell the party would have been filletted by goblins. However, as a sorcerer she succeeded.

    Acquired casters have less versatility than instinctive casters outside combat, because they have to wait to regain their spells. Inside combat, I think it’s much of a muchness.

    However… I do take the point you’re making. We have a system where most spell-casters can access any of their spells at any time, and if they don’t have access to them then they can soon get access.

    Maybe fiddling with the rules this way compromises out-of-combat spellcasting, but I think after all these years I’m okay with that.

  3. Neil says:

    Had a quick look through this, I thought you were finished tinkering with the system ;-)

    For the free casting option you could make it so that there is a limit to the number of spells running at any one time. Extreme would be you could only have one spell at a time so, yes you could have shield running the whole time but to cast magic missile you would need to take it down. The time taken to re-cast would be the usual casting time so if you have a spell running that takes a little while to cast you may seriously think about whether you want to wade into a combat with spells at all. Of course you could relax the limit a bit, perhaps linking the number to the level of the caster. I think this would help mitigate the cons quite effectively. The ‘detect thoughts’ con is certainly a concern but how much of a problem would it really be? I’m sure you could come up with ways of limiting its effectiveness in game. For example, if this was the accepted practice people would start protecting themselves from such invasion. Sure the peasants would be unlikely to do anything but are they important? And just think a character who could have detect thoughts or similar running all the time would make a great inquisitor…Alternatively how about making those sorts of spells contested? Or, another option might be to reduce the effectiveness, for example to surface thoughts only and it would be the skill of the character to get the person to think the required thought ‘actively’ so it could be read. It might be too much effort but I think this could be really good.

    As for the number of spells, well it should be linked to level as this is effectively the sorcerer learning how to tap into their power reserves. I’m not sure how instinctive casters get spells but couldn’t they be locked to a particular type of spell, in much the same way as priests are? So you could have fire sorcerers which would be able to cast all manner of fire related spells but be unable to cast a simple charm spell. Some spells might be universal or perhaps have their own flavour, for example shield could be a fiery shield for the fire mage. I don’t know how feasible this is, it might be way too much work.

    I haven’t voted yet as I wanted to give you my thoughts first.

  4. I will never be finished tinkering with the system!

    I believe what you’re proposing is that instinctive casters cast spells at will. However, they cannot have more than one spell running at any one time. Therefore if they cast a spell that has a duration of anything other than “instantaneous” then it immediately replaces any other spell with a duration that they might have running.

    For example: a sorcerer could summon Evards Black Tentacles to grapple foes in an area, and while that spell was running he could still cap off his magic missiles and lightning bolts as those are instantaneous spells. However, if he then chose to cast a Summon Monster spell, the Black Tentacles spell would end, as it was replaced by the summoned creature. Basically, the instinctive caster only has the power to keep one spell running at any one time.

    Mechanically, that could work. It would be a significant limiter on instinctive casters. They wouldn’t be able to tool up an entire party at will, or layer magical effects on themselves but they would still be able to participate in combat. A sorcerer couldn’t cast eagle’s splendour and heroism on herself, because they couldn’t work at the same time. And, as you say, higher level instinctive casters might manage to have more than one spell running at the same time.

    I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. I can’t imagine that it would be a popular option for those players who currently have sorcerers or inquisitors or whatever, and then have to convert and manage characters in this new system.

    Regarding, detect thoughts, I’d rather avoid a magical arms race between spellcasters and their targets. The spell does already have a saving throw, which sort of makes it contested. I’m not a big fan of those sort of divination magicks in general, and they’re certainly not designed to work in a system that allows spellcasting at-will. I’ve experimented with reducing the power of detect thoughts but I was never really happy with the way it turned out. I guess it would just be a matter of seeing how things worked in game. Of course, casting a spell at will is not the same as having the spell continuously active. There would still be a certain amount of hand-waving a chanting, which isn’t very subtle at dinner parties.

    Some instinctive casters are locked to a particular type of spell – but this is a function of their class rather than the magic system they are using. Oracles are indeed limited in their selection in a manner similar to clerics. Sorcerers choose a bloodline which flavours some of their abilities but on the whole they are generalists in the spellcasting stakes. Bards have one spell list, but all of their spells are slanted toward charm, illusion and entertainment. Much as it might make sense to generally limit instinctive casters in this manner, I’m not sure it would be compatible with the third edition D&D system that we are trying to operate within.

  5. As said; it all comes down to the balance between versatility and repeatability. I like spell points until 5 minutes rest like wizards.

    It is how you apply the limitation that concerns me – I’d go for a spell slot system where you follow the book and but can always trade down, but never up. It removes the idea of excess spell levels – total number of spells is the same, but you can chose to forgoe a higher level spell for a lower level one. I would want it to be a hard choice between combat potential and utility rather than being able to have an acceptable mix between the two (e.g. a 5th level spell vs a 2nd and a 3rd) part of the fun is in have you made the right choice!

    Out of combat the versatility limitation should kibosh any “detect thoughts” or similar spamming since the primary role of a sorcerer is as a magical machine gun, thus having few utility spells they should be only useful in limited situations.

  6. Neil says:

    It depends on what you want to do: if you want to have something that works a bit better than current way and is easy to implement and won’t cause too much opposition some of the other options are fine; if on the other hand you want to genuinely look at what makes an instinctive caster different and make them more interesting (and limiting) to play then IMHO the first option is the only way to go the only question is then how to mitigate the cons. The players you have are much higher than first level so maybe you can think of a good way to link the number of spells to their level? In your reply I’m not sure whether you think ‘tooling up a party’ and ‘layering magical effects’ is a good thing or not?

    I think the current languor system ‘works’ in terms of how you think instinctive casting should work but I agree that the amount of dice rolling is excessive, though I haven’t played one for a while. What do your players think? I assume they have expressed concerns?

  7. Tooling a party up for a fight they know is coming is one thing. Having the option to have all these buffs effectively running all the time is something a little different. It skews some of the assumptions of third edition D&D, which can lead to unfortunate consequences.

    It seems clear to me that the languor system needs to change in some way because it it doesn’t really work. There are some fundamental mechanical flaws, in addition to there being a lot of dice rolling. My attempt to tweak it in the last blog post led me to believe that perhaps it isn’t the best solution, so it onyl seems fair to present a selection of different solutions and see what appeals to the most people.

    To be honest: I don’t know how ambitious I want to be. Freecasting is evocative for sure, but how well would it work in game? With all the limitations and provisos that would have to be put in place, would it not be simpler to go with a spell-point system? I have notes to convert the warlock into Pathfinder and I certainly wasn’t going to let him cast spells at will. If I was to list my priorities I would want the Instinctive spellcasting system to: 1) Work mechanically within D&D; 2) Be distinct from the Acquired magic system; 3) Be evocative.

  8. Neil says:

    Perhaps you could say rather than limit the number of spells at any one time, limit the number of types of spells at any one time? So you could still have an effect running on the party, one on yourself and a static area of effect, for example?

    Given those priorities I think option 3,4 and 6 are the best. I quite like Jon’s idea but it is all to do with balance which you can only get right after a number of failed attempts (unless you’re lucky). I think option 3 is going to be harder to balance. Option 6 is interesting but I too have concerns with the ‘one size fits all’ assumption. As for the known spells, well again its all about the balance and to be honest I think the two questions are very much linked. Options 3, 4 or 5 are probably the best (basically being the same option but different balance) but you really need to see how they would work with each different way of casting; as I said, intrinsically linked.

    Good luck, I think you’re going to need it!

  9. Well, I have to say, I have never wanted to play a sorcerer in any system you have yet implemented Neil. Neither languor nor subdual damage work for me at all. I’ve never liked the idea of magic tiring one out as a good way of balancing the game, whether in role-playing games, computer games or any other medium. It just doesn’t seem heroic or fun to me.

    Of all these options, Jon’s option 4 seems most workable at first glance. It feels a little 4e in its fine balancing of the rules, though.

    I like Neil S’s idea around free casting. It’s very Mage the Awakening (which works as a free casting system, because you have a limit on the number of spells you can have running). Maybe limit it by ability modifier? I really think that could work. I voted option 4, but actually prefer this now.

    However, my preferred option is none of the above. I definitely think you should go for Words of Power:

    http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ultimateMagic/ultimateMagicWordsOfPower.html

    If you want it to work mechanically, be distinctive and be evocative, this is the system to use. In any of the proposed systems, a sorcerer would still be casting a fireball, silent image, dimension door etc. In this system, they might know a word for flame, words for shaping that flame and words for extending the duration. They can shape and bend the power to their will.

    It’s perfect for instinctive casters. It ties them to primal forces – the words of dragons (or aboleths/dryads/Asmodeus/Ravenna’s Mother) spring uncalled for into their very beings.

    Wizards and co use rote magics like 3rd level fireballs. Sorcerers twist the living flame into shapes of their own choosing.

  10. You know, I don’t think I’ve actually read the rules for Words of Power properly. In fact I’d completely forgotten that the system existed when writing this blog post. I’m going to take another look this evening, and give this some serious thought.

    Using a system that already exists strikes me as eminently preferable to making one up from scratch. Without looking at Ultimate Magic I have three concerns with the system:

    1) It’s designed to balance with the Vancian spellcasting system, so how well does it sit side-by-side with the recharge system we use?

    2) It hasn’t really been supported by Paizo beyond Ultimate Magic so there isn’t the depth of different effects you get from conventional spellcasting. Is there enough variety to support many different classes?

    3) Is the system generic enough to apply to all instinctive casters? This is a spellcasting mechanic that is shared by sorcerers, bards, wilders and oracles. Those are very different classes – would Words of Power be right for all of them?

    All of these feats may be completely unfounded. I’m going downstairs with Ultimate Magic and a cup of tea. I’ll add my considered thoughts a little later.

  11. Good questions.

    1) Balancing with the recharge system would just need you to be able to regain your words after a short rest, I think. Maybe we need to think about exactly how recharge magic is better than Vancian casting. Metamagic is the big one for me, but Wordcasting has meta words. I think a way can be found around that.

    2) The amount of words is certainly limited, compared to the main caster’s spell lists. We may need to develop some more words.

    3) I think so. The rules are presented for all types of caster (except psionicists). Don’t forget, sorcerers and oracles still get bonus spells based on their bloodline or mystery. Specialist magic that comes straight from the blood. There are class lists of words that function exactly as spell lists for normal casters. Much of the base is the same. It’s the actual casting that is different.

    (And, of course, the system is ripe for adapting as my entry to RPG Superstar demonstrated. Just ask Sean K Reynolds…)

  12. right here goes my comments…

    i think Sorcerer’s are underpowered and lame compared to wizards, hence i never played a sorcerer once in the entire release of 3rd edition and beyond…

    Jon, i am going to bash Ravenna right away for all the right reasons…yes Ravenna is weak because she is a sorcerer by the current system and requires a rethink…she has limited spell list and she has to make languor checks constantly…yes great intrinsic casters can repeat casting of the same spells, but in an encounter, there is no more than 3-4 rounds before it is over and the whole point of having to re-cast the same spell again doesnt do justice and wizards have so many more spells compared to sorcerer…and languor checks and sorcerer associated condition take time and slows down the game…

    i like the spell reset after encounter, makes sense for the wizards and i think should be considered for the sorcerer too…and vote to give sorcerer more spells but not more by any means close to wizards…

    but let me throw something in…i do like the idea of having some spells that sorcerer are innately proficient that allows them to cast at-will for as long as they want without any checks or limitation…yes of course this should be a very limlted list and should grow with leveling…

    ill leave the maths and everything else to you to figure out neil and that’s just my opinion

  13. Just a thought, but if you’re worried about at-will Divination spells breaking out of combat in half then i’d suggest considering some kind of limitation specifically on the Divination school, perhaps divination spells like Detect Thoughts actively -require- a body part of the target in order to function. *Shrug*

    But if that’s the real hurdle preventing you from allowing freecasting (which i think would probably be the best choice given your acquired caster house rules), address that specific hurdle rather than the entire system. While adjusting the entire system to have no exceptions is a nice idea in theory, in practice it is rarely practical to do so.

  14. Neil, if divination is such a show-stopper for you.
    Knee-cap it like you did teleportation.
    Tweak the function of the weave to better suite you’re requirements.

    Anything you think is overpowered – turn it into a ritual (A la Ars Magicka) which has a SERIOUS material component – something that players will think twice before giving up…. ie EXPERIENCE POINTS.

    Not all Divinations mind you – just the game breakers.

    I suggest 250 x Adjusted Spell Level (inc Metamagic) EXP ; and increase the cast time for the game breakers to 1hr per Adjusted Spell level.

    So 6th level Analyse Dewomer would cost 1500 Exp : or roughly one / two sessions worth. That’ll slow players down.

    Yes – I know that is unfair on the “spellcaster” – but hey, they have been given an unfairly rough ride up to now compared to martial classes – so why change.

    (Until you introduce the concept of durability into fighters swords and have them go dull [ yes even the magic ones] until the player maintains them – forcing fighters to actually invest skill points in balcksmithing and time in maintenance – you’re never going to convince me that this is a balanced system)

  15. In defence of the experience point costs and it’s percieved unfairness, I compare it to force points in Star Wars – the GM can always give the exp back if it “advances” the plot and was necessary, or some of the points back if it wasn’t frivolous.

    It will also speed up play – stopping Mages just time hogging the GM with frivolous questions.

    My Personal Defense : I am not sure – but I don’t think Ravenna has really invested in many Divinations – I think she has analyse Dweaomer – but I *think* she has always cast this “off-camera”.

  16. Okay, lots for me to comment on. Let’s start with Daniel.

    Words of Power

    For those unfamiliar with the system, here’s the York notes version: ‘Wordcasters’ don’t have access to the same spell list as normal classes. They instead have access to generic spells called words. These words are divided into three categories: Effect words, Target words and Meta words – and depending on your level you can combine words into a variety of effects.

    For example: “Fire Blast” is an Effect word that does 1d6 damage per caster level (max 10d6); “Burst” is a Target word that increases the area of effect to a 20 ft. radius; “Penetrating” is a Meta word that overcomes spell resistance. Put the three together at the point of casting and you’ve created the equivalent of a fireball that punches through spell resistance.

    Yes. I like Words of Power. I think it’s evocative, I think it works and I think it’s highly suitable for instinctive casters. It’s a lot like the rules for True Dweomers from the 2nd edition High Level Campaign Guide, and epic magic from the 3rd edition Epic Level Handbook. The main difference being that it seems to actually work.

    BUT

    (you could sense the “but” couldn’t you?)

    Words of Power isn’t a spellcasting system. It’s a different spell list. Words of Power are designed to work in the game using the published rules for spellcasting that already exists for wizards and sorcerers. And it’s those published rules that we’re looking to change.

    What I’m trying to say is that even if we decided to use Words of Power we still have to come up with a system to use it with. It doesn’t stand alone.

    We could use Words of Power with the published system, with spell points (per day or per encounter) or even with Freecasting. Actually, Freecasting would be very interesting, wouldn’t it?

    So I think we need to bear Words of Power in mind when looking at the choices above… but Words of Power don’t actually affect the choices we have for the system. Once we’ve decided on the mechanics we can then decide whether instinctive casters should use the existing spell lists of their classes, or word spells instead (or a combination of the two).

    I think there’s a strong case to use Words of Power, though.

  17. Right, now onto everyone else:

    INdran: At the moment, Sorcerers don’t really have less spells than acquired classes. Ravenna’s spell list is just as long as Arvan’s or Nicos’s. That’s something I do want to change. I think that the freedom for instinctive casters to cast any spell repeatedly at any time is a distinct advantage.

    The five minute rest for wizards to regain spells seems insignificant, but really it isn’t. Sure it doesn’t take long, but there are plenty of times when you simply cannot take a short rest.

    A short rest implies meditation. A wizard has to get his spell book out and study it. During a short rest you cannot move, speak to other PCs, and you’re generally unaware of surroundings. If you’re interrupted in the middle of a short rest, then you’re surprised. And don’t expect to be able to take one where there’s no where to sit down, if you’re outside in inclement weather, on a boat on rough seas or riding a horse. The short rest isn’t something that can be hand-waved away, and if time is of the essence or you’re being pursued by foes, or in danger of being discovered… then taking such a risk might be too risky.

    Also in combat: the sorcerer has the freedom to recast a spell that fails on the following round. Wizards can’t do that without investing in special feats.

    Regarding at-will abilities: in Pathfinder, Sorcerers already have these but they’re a function of their class and not their spell-list. Sorcerers get bloodline abilities such as shooting energy, growing claws…. that sort of thing.

    I completely agree with you that Languor checks take too long. Too much dice rolling.

    Jon & Will: I have already knee-capped divination. I modified many of the spells in attempt to redefine and down-power them. There are no rituals per se in third edition, but I did increase the casting time of spells like contact other plane so that they are measured in hours. That effectively ritual-ises them.

    I don’t really want to use Experience Points as currency for spell-casting. Yes, it makes players think twice, but it doesn’t really work well in the game to have too wide a gap between the XP totals of different characters. Pathfinder excised this from the game, and I’m happy to keep it that way.

    The Star Wars option is intertesting… but I think it leaves a little bit too much to a GM’s judgment. Congratulations player A: your divination advanced the plot, you can your XP back. However, Player B, you’re just bugging me now – take the XP drain. Anything like that is going to be perceived as unfair, and lead to bad feeling.

    The Freecasting option is getting some unexpected traction in these comments.

    • Hiya,

      A rare comment from me. One of the joys of playing fighters is that you can keep going throughout the day while magic users slowly (or recklessly) deplete their amazing powers. I’m therefore not keen on the 5-minute rest option. Saying that, surely every class needs a five-minute rest (to dress wounds, ensure weapons and armour are clean and sharp, to bring calm and focus back to a priest’s mind, etc.)

      I voted spell points per day with total spells known as this appears quite straight forward, allows flexibility and limits those pesky magic-users from dominating every encounter.

      Or is that just my dwarven side coming through ;)

      • Hi Jake. Thanks for that. I can’t seem to see you comment on WordPress at all. No idea why that might be. Anyway, it looks as though your vote was recorded.

  18. freecasting.
    As I think people have said (i can;t be bothered to re-read) more 4th Ed.
    But it does mean that the the Sorcerer whose schtick is to draw power from the weave and wield it is more in line with Martial character – whose schtick is to wave around a weapon with prowess ; and can do this without hinderance or limitation.

    While i typed this – I was wondering ….musing lets say, on whether spells could be categorised by the GM as offensive or passive, and whether the sorcerer could freecast he offensive spells during combat ; akin to the Fighter wafting their sword around willy-nilly ; but have strict daily limits to the passive spells…..

    I muse…..

  19. Neil,

    can you explain here – why you felt the need to change the rules as published in the first place?

    i’ve never quite undersood that……

  20. Jon: I think that if we did adopt a Freecasting system for spells, then it would have to apply universally to all spells a sorcerer could cast. Any distinctive between offensive and passive magic would be tricky at best, and arbitary at worst. How do you explain the difference between the two ‘in game’?

    I did away with the published spell casting rules in 1993 because I didn’t like them. I hated the idea of spellcasters having to prepare their spells in advance, and that once cast that spell was unavailable for an entire day. I never found it particularly fun to manage a spellcaster under that system, and it made my job as a GM painfully difficult. There was just too much book keeping.

    Having to pick which spells were available to you from a long list in the morning, in the hope they were useful in the afternoon…. well, I just think that unnecessarily penalised spell casters. Wizards were not (and could never be) ultimate magical power houses. They were just book-keepers. And the system made even less sense for clerics.

    Spell points were just a simpler way of doing things. Although I think the recharge system is even simpler.

  21. I would suggest that you give the std PF rules a shot before you go down this complex route.
    You are never going to convince me that recharge magic is a better solution than a wizzard specifying in the morning that 2 of his spells are fireballs today.

    I would say its like having a series o fcomplex 36 alpha-numeric passwords for your various computer programs – you can only remember so many of them without having to go relearn them : and I would take me longer than 5 minutes to remember each one!!!!!

    I have no problem book-keeping that.

    You probably “bookkeep spells” without even thinking about it in the games you play on the Xbox (I know I do playing games like Dark Souls for example)

    anyway – just my 2 penneth. I realise I am mostly just wasting my electronic-breath.

    I think it would be interesting if you changed the vote to include “go back to PF rules as published”.

  22. Sorry, I’m going to play GM privelege on that one. I would never run NPC spellcasters using those rules. I just don’t have the time or the inclination to decide spells in advance. It’s a horrible system for players, and players only have one character to worry about.

    Recharge magic is a better solution because all you need is a list of the spells a wizards knows, then you just tick them off when they are cast. Significantly less work!

  23. which IMnsHO means that players cannot catch out the unprepared wizard – cos they do something he didn’t plan for.
    But the GM can always catch out the players by throwing something they have no resistance to.
    I, personally, feel this detracts from the players and means that the GM cannot be “derailed”…… which I feel detracts from the game as a player. No point trying to be clever – as the situations will just be rehashes of previous ones – where a canny wizard will always have the sensible spell list ; and can call on just the right spell.

    I know this works both way – But isn’t that just the point.
    Not having the right spell at the right time adds tension…..

    Right now – nobody can get caught out. Which is dull.

  24. Well, it hasn’t seemed dull for the last 19 years. Isn’t it more dull that 90% of all the spells in print are never brought into play because they aren’t useful in every sitution, therefore no wizard ever memorises them?

    • As Jon couldn’t be bothered to re-read ;)

      Free casting isn’t very 4e. It’s spell points per encounter that are. As would be frequent attack spells vs infrequent utility spells.

      As someone who has played the book rules plenty, I can confirm they work fine. That’s not up for debate though. (Also, wizards have still had to prepare spells right up until recharge magic came in. Spell preparation and spell points is a much bigger book-keeping nightmare than straight Vancian casting.)

      I think a system of free casting with the standard numberof spells known (option 1), a limit to the number of spells running at any one time (probably the relevant ability modifier) and words of power would work really well.

      It’s interesting, distinctive and flavourful. It’s overpowered, but then so is recharge magic. I think they’d be about equal. High level casters are more powerful than other characters in the basic game and all these rules make them more so. However, recharge magic is simple and effective and high level d20 is always going to be unbalanced so what the hell.

  25. I think I developed a deep prejudice regarding the published rules for magic in the early days of second edition, and never really got over it. Certainly, some of the alternatives I’ve used over the years haven’t been any better. The old system for wizards was painful – and probably why you didn’t meet many NPC wizards.

    However, I am pleased with the Recharge system, and I think it works equally as well as spell points – perhaps more so as it’s mechanically closer to the orginal ‘Vancian’ rules.

    I’m still wary of Freecasting, but I’ll wait and see what results come from these polls (bearing in mind Daniel and Neil’s preferences). The Words of Power system does make sense for instinctive casters, but it would be a big, big change to the way they work. Perhaps too big for players who have been running instinctive casters under different rules up until now.

  26. I looked at words of power when I was creating PCs for last retreat.
    After a couple of hours I scooped up my brains that had dripped out of my head an gave up.

    Kudos to Mr Rust for a) understanding it b) creating something for RPG superstar that worked!

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