Spell DCs

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A blistering short post.

The rules as written calculate the saving throw DCs of spells using the following formula:

10 + Spell Level + Ability Score Modifier

The ability score modifier used is the same ability score that governs the magic-user’s spellcasting powers: so Intelligence for a wizard, Wisdom for a cleric, Charisma for a bard and so on.

The current house rules calculate spell DCs using a different formula:

10 + ½ Caster Level (rounded down) + Ability Score Modifier

Which version shall we use?


The Three Tests

Narrative Integrity

No problems here. It’s just how we set the DC. It doesn’t make any difference to the story of the campaign world.

Games without Miniatures

Again no issues. This is just as easy to adjudicate with or without little plastic figures.

Our Preferences

So it boils down to this. The house rules equalise the DCs between spells and supernatural abilities. Any monster or class that has a supernatural or spell-like ability uses the hosue rule formula already. So this is already something that exists and works in game, and is already balanced against the saving throws of character classes. I don’t think we have anything to worry about on the imbalance front.

What these rules do is big up lower level spells, and make them more valid choices at higher levels. The rule is stating that the power of the spell comes from the caster and not the spell itself. A charm person cast by a twentieth level wizard should be harder to resist than the same spell cast by a first level wizard.

However, you may argue that the game already takes that into account, because your twentieth level wizard will have a higher ability score modifier than your first level wizard. You may also think that there should be a graduated difficulty in spell DCs, rather than having one DC fit all spells.

Our Pact of Minimal Tinkering states that we use the rules as written and ignore these house rules. However, I like these house rules. I don’t like them enough to make a big issue of it if you want to drop them: but I would like to have the discussion.


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4 thoughts on “Spell DCs

  1. I think stick with the rules as written. Instinctively, it seems like an obvious change to make, but it makes casters more powerful, when they really don’t need it.

    There are ways of heightening the power of spells if you really want to cast souped up Charm Person spells (the Heighten Spell feat being the main one). One-off spell-like abilities aren’t really comparable to a long spell list. You don’t need to balance them against each other.

  2. I think I agree with you. Unless everyone chimes in and says how much they like the house rules, I think this is another one that we’re going to lose.

  3. Neil says: I like the house rules, they make more sense to me: the more powerful the caster the harder it is to resist his spells. Otherwise, ‘in reality’, you would have a lot of lower level spells which would have higher level equivalents as the wizard out-grows the spell. Surely the ability modifier increase is minimal compared to half the caster level? If you go back to the old rules it suggests that ability is more important than training which IMHO should never be the case.

  4. Well, there are lower level spells that have high level equivalents… but I think I’m just splitting hairs by mentioning it.

    Neil, everything you’ve said explains why these house rules were in place to begin with. But this does make spell casters more powerful. As the rules stand, if a spellcaster wants to cast a spell with a DC equal to the house rules formula of half your caster level, then they need to know the Heighten Spell feat, and they need to prepare that spell in a higher level spell slot.

    So an 18th level wizard who wants to cast Charm Person with a base saving throw DC of 19 + Int Mod (the same as his ninth level spells) needs to memorise that spell as a ninth level spell. That means he has one less genuine ninth level spell he can memorise.

    The rules as written break down at very high levels (as does everything else in the game). A 40th level wizard with an Intelligence of 24 would cast ninth level spells that have a DC of 26. There isn’t a creature of a comparable level that would fail to make that save on a roll of 2 or more on a d20.

    Compare that with a spell-like ability or a supernatural ability ‘cast’ by a 40th level creature. The DC for that would be 37.

    To take a point that Daniel made, I don’t think you get very far comparing spell DCs with spell-like ability DCs, as lists of spell-like abilities are very limited. They should instead be compared with the DCs of every class ability in the game. Everything else runs off the formula 10 + half level + ability score modifier. In facts spells are the only thing that don’t work that way.

    BUT I was running third edition for 11 years before I considered making this change. It might be perceived as a problem for us considering it now, but it’s never really been an issue around the table has it?

    And if it’s not caused an issue in game, then is it really worth changing it? I guess that’s what I’m getting at.

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