Instinctive Spellcasting – The Finale

Okay. We’re nearly there. The results of the voting on the previous two blog entries give us the following results:

  • Instinctive characters will use a Spell Point system that will renew after each encounter.
  • We will use my Rounded Spell Levels total to determine how many different spells instinctive casters can know.
  • Instinctive casters can overcast their spells – this will drain their Constitution score.
  • We will use the standard spell lists and not use Words of Power.

Those results bear a little explanation and possible modification depending on the comments and the vote below:

Regarding Words of Power: The vote between those who wanted to use the Words of Power rules, and those that did not, is tied. Bearing in mind that not everyone who plays instinctive casters has voted, I have decided to err in favour of the status quo. BUT because there seems a fair interest in Words of Power I propose that we test it in game and see how well it flows. I’m not sure when exactly, but perhaps when the weekly game recommences, or the next weekend game.

Regarding Overcasting: Constitution damage was the favourite approach by far, but questions were asked over whether Constitution was the most appropriate ability score. I am therefore wondering if many of you thought Ability Damage was best solution, and voted for Con Damage because that was the only option on offer. So here’s another poll which offers a more specific choice. When you vote imagine the process of casting instinctive magic. Is it draining to the mind or the body? Do sorcerers who overcast burst blood vessels, or are they dazed by the experience?

And there we have it. Thanks very much to everyone who has taken the time to thrash this out.

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Instinctive Casters – The Results

Right then. The polls in the last blog post have been running for two weeks and I think it’s time to draw a line under them. I think that everyone who cares has either had their say or cast a vote, so I’m going to move on. Which is not to say that I won’t read or take notice of any further feedback. If you have an opinion let me know.

Even taking into account Neil’s undocumented opinions, and Daniel’s last minute conversion to a Freecasting system, the winning proposals are obvious: and have a clearer mandate than any government elected in this country in the last seventy years. The majority wants instinctive casters to move to a Spell Points per Encounter system, and for the number of spells they know to be determined by Rounded Spell Levels.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s decided.

However, before I start writing up these new rules, there are three things that I would like you to decide upon.

How Many Spell Points?

We have a bit of a dilemma. Normally, I’ve converted spell points directly from the number of spells a caster can cast in a day in the published spell system. As we are resetting spell points after each encounter, that approach won’t work any more. There’s no poll to vote on in this regard as I only have one idea. However, if you have any other thoughts that you think will work better then please say so in the comments..

The number of spell points depends on your progression. Characters who cast all nine spell levels like a sorcerer have 2 spell points per level + their ability score per level. Those that cast up to level six (like a bard) have 1.5 spell points per level + their ability score per level (round down!). Those that cast up to level four spells (like a hexblade) have 1 spell point per level + their ability score.

So does this work?

A 1st level sorcerer with a  Charisma of 17 has a total of 4 spell points, and knows 2 levels worth of spells. A 10th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 17 has a total of 23 spell points. That sorcerer knows 44 levels of spells (from levels 1 to 5), so she won’t be able to blow through all her spells without taking a rest. However, given how long combats tend to last she’s unlikely to run out of spellcasting options before the end of the final round. By eighteenth level, the same sorcerer with a Charisma of 22 (let’s call her Ravenna) would have 42 spell points, but know 102 levels of spells.

A 1st level bard with a Charisma of 17 also has 4 spell points, and knows 2 levels worth of spells. At 10th level the same bard has a total of 18 spell points, and knows 28 levels worth of spells. By 18th level that bard (now with a Charisma of 22) has 33 spell points and knows a total of 74 levels of spells.

Does all this sound about right to you? Let me know in the comments. If you don’t say then I won’t know! I think the number of spell points seems fair as it looks as though a spellcaster can cast the most powerful spell they know four times before running out of spell points. I haven’t double checked that for every permutation of class and level, though.

Overcasting

Jon proposed that sorcerers (or other instinctive casters) should have the ability to carry on casting magic even if they ran out of spell points. Doing so should drain them in some fashion, meaning they would only attempt such a thing in dire circumstances. I have a few suggestions as to how this might work in practice. Have a read, then please vote below:

Option One: No Overcasting

A simple option. We just don’t go down the overcasting route. We keep things simple. Sorcerers and their ilk have a set number of spell points and no more. It may not be quite as evocative, but it keeps things nice and easy for everyone. I should point out that we had a form of overcasting in the rules for years, but no-one actually used it.

Option Two: Make a check or nauseated

When the instinctive caster overcasts magic they must make a Concentration Check. The DC is the same as casting defensively: 15 + double the spell level + spell levels over their normal spell point total. If they fail the check then the spell fails and the sorcerer is nauseated for a number of rounds equal to the spell level. Successive overcast attempts result in further Concentration checks, at an increasing difficulty as the number of spell levels they have tried to cast over their normal total also increases. If the spellcaster overcasts (whether successful or not) it takes 1 hour instead of a short rest (5 minutes) to regain their spell points.

This is the only option I’ve presented that requires the roll of a die. I don’t think that would be as much of an issue as the languor system as instinctive casters should only be overcasting very infrequently. The price of failure (the “nauseated” condition) is deliberately high. If you are nausaeted you can only take a single Move action on your turn: and no-one wants that in combat. The additional delay to regain your spell points (up from 5 minutes to 1 hour) if you overcast should discourage using this option outside combat unless absolutely necessary.

Option Three: Constitution Damage

An instinctive spellcaster can overcast their spells. However, any additional spell levels they spend over their normal spell point total is converted into Constitution damage. For example, a sorcerer has a maximum of 20 spell point but has already cast 18 spell levels. If the sorcerer casts a fifth level spell then they spend their last two spell points, and take three points of damage to their Constitution score. This ability damage heals normally.

This option has the advantage of being quick and easy to adjudicate. It’s also rather brutal as any damag to Consitution automatically affects the sorcerer’s current and maximum hit points. However, it is invocative of the sorcerer metabolising his own body and turning it into magic: a desperate last resort.

Option Four: Borrowing from Yourself

In this system, a sorcerer that overcasts borrows spell points from the spell points he would have had if he had the chance to take a short rest. The price he pays is lowering his maximum spell point total until his next extended (8-hour) rest. For example: a sorcerer has a maximum of 20 spell points. She casts all 20, but still needs to cast magic and opts to overcast. She casts a second and a third level spell using up 5 more spell points. When she takes a short rest to regain her spell points her maximum total is now 15 and not 20. Her maximum total remains 15 until she takes an extended rest at the end of the day.

This option requies a little more paperwork on the part of the player, and has the potential to make the instinctive caster more powerful. If the instinctive caster overcasts more than twice his spell points (40 spell points in the example above) then the overflow at thay point would be converted to Constitution damage as per option two.

Words of Power

The rules for Words of Power can be found on the Pathfinder PRD. I’m not going to try and explain the mechanics. Have a read and see if you can understand them. It is a magic system without spells. The idea is that you take the fundamental elements of a spell and build a magical effect on the fly. If you ignore the Pathfinder-flavour it’s an extremely evocative and appropriate system for untrained, instinctive spellcasters.

Daniel has proposed that we adopt this system. If we did, then I’d want to apply it across the board to all sorcerers, oracles, wilders, inquisitors and the like. The Words of Power ‘spells’ would replace the class’s normal spell list. The class wouldn’t be able to select normal spells, they would choose words of power instead. Any additional spells granted by class abilities – such as a sorcerer’s bloodline powers, or an oracle’s mysteries – would still be spells from the normal spell list.

We’d still use spell points per encounter and rounded spell-levels if we adopted Words of Powers. The mechanics of the system wouldn’t change, just the content of the individual class’s spell lists.

Be under no illusion: this would be a massive change to the way magic works in the game. Certainly in keeping with Iourn thematically, but a sharp right turn for those players who have instinctive casters as their characters.

What’s Next?

Once we’ve made these last decisions, I’m going to consolidate the rules for the final time and then get them up on Iourn.com. I’m not planning on introducing any further house rules for third edition/Pathfinder. I wouldn’t like say that I’m done with the system, but I’m not sure there’s any thing else I want to fundamentally alter. What the future holds is converting third and fourth edition material in to the new rules. I’d like to see the warlock and the swordmage properly supported in the hybrid game.

Looking to the far future, I like a lot of what I’m reading regarding 5th edition – I am cautious, however, as I liked most of what I read about fourth 4th edition as well. I also envisage not running games set on Iourn as much as I have in the past decade. These hybrid rules that we’ve worked on for the last few years will become the system I use to run games on Iourn. However, I think I might just be adopting 5th edition for any new campaigns set outside that setting.

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

House Rules and Languor Checks

Over the past year or so the new rules for spellcasting have been put through their paces. They’ve taken a bit of a hammering at various levels, and numerous changes have been made. The original playtest documents can be found over in this post. I’m currently working on updated versions, but there’s something I need to thrash out in the meantime. While I’m pretty happy with the recharge system that Acquired casters such as wizards and clerics are using, the languor system as used by Instinctive casters such as sorcerers or inquisitors is still causing me concern. So I’m proposing a change. And I’d especially like those of you who play these characters to let me know what you think.

Instinctive Casting: where we are now

The full rules for instinctive casters can be found in the magic document. But I’ll summarise them briefly here. An instinctive casters knows a finite number of spells based upon their “spell levels known” which increases as the caster gains levels, and is influenced by their ability score. Instinctive casters can cast their magic spells as often as they like, but each time they cast a spell they need to make a languor check. If this check is failed then the instinctive caster begins to tire.

With one failed check, the caster is weary. This has no game effect, but is the first step on the path to more serious conditions. A short rest will remove the weary condition, but if the instinctive caster doesn’t have time for a short rest, then the second failed languor check makes them fatigued, the third makes them exhausted and the fourth renders them unconscious.

In order to make a Languor Check the caster must roll 1d20 + Caster Level + the ability modifier of the score that governs their spellcasting. So for example, a 10th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 18 would roll 1d20+14. The DC of the check is based on the level of the spell they are trying to cast, as expressed on this table:

Spell Level

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

DC

18

20

22

24

27

29

31

33

36

38

40

42

45

47

49

On the whole the rules work pretty well, and at its core this system does govern languor casters in the same sort of way as the published rules. The only part of the system I have an issue with  is the difficulty of the languor check. Although manipulating the system to get easier languor checks takes some work (unless you’re Steve), you can also get easier languor checks without even trying. If you’re playing a bard instead of a sorcerer, for example, the checks are easier by an order of magnitude. The trick is plugging this loop-hole without penalising the those PCs for which languor checks aren’t easy at all.

Changing the Difficulty

The DCs are supposed to give characters a 25% chance of success at making a languor check when they caster a spell of the most powerful level they have access to, and an increasing chance to make the check when casting spells of lower levels. In order to set the DCs I’ve made a few base assumptions. Firstly I’ve assumed that the character’s relevent ability score is 15 at 1st level, and that the character increases that score at every opportunity as they gain levels (i.e. levels 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 under Pathfinder). Secondly, I’ve assumed that the character is a full spellcaster who gains access to spells at odd-numbered levels and can cast ninth level spells by 17th level.

That’s where things begin to fall down.

Let’s take two character classes: a sorcerer and a bard. Both are eighteenth level, both have a Charisma of 19, and therefore both make languor checks by rolling 1d20+22. Now look at the spells they can cast. A sorcerer’s most powerful spell is 9th level, so the DC to cast that spell is 36. The sorcerer needs to roll a 14 or more to cast that spell. A 35% chance. However, the bard’s most powerful spell is only 6th level, and the DC of a 6th level spell is only 29. The bard has a 75% chance of casting her most powerful spell.

This isn’t fair. And it’s not what I want the system to do. The bard is a weaker spellcaster. If you look at the rules as they are actually written for sorcerers and bards (not something I often do for magic in D&D) you’ll see an eighteenth level sorcerer can cast three 9th level spells per day, and an eighteenth level bard can cast three 6th level spells per day. The rules are telling us that it’s as difficult for a bard to cast a sixth level spell, as it is for a sorcerer to cast a ninth level spell. And yet, my system makes life much easier for the bard.

And frankly, as the house rules are written, I can’t see a way around this.

The problem stems from the DC table I have constructed, and the assumptions I have made. The table might work well enough for full spellcasters who gain access to all nine levels of spells over their career, but it doesn’t work for casters whose maximum spell level is only sixth. And any instinctive spellcasters that follow the paladin or the ranger progression would become an even greater aberrations in the system.

So what’s to be done? Well, I could create three different tables for languor checks dependent upon character class, but that’s seems fiddlesome. And it would also cause issues for anyone multiclassing. What table does the sorcerer 12/inquisitor 6 use? My solution is far more prosaic than that. The system is jumping through hoops to try to manipulate a massive number of variables, and boil them down to the following goal: You have a 25% chance of making a languor check when casting your most powerful spells. So why bother with the hoop-jumping? Why bother with any of these variables? Why not just pick something consistent, and that works?

The Percentile Roll

The d20 system doesn’t use many percentile rolls. I guess, the clue is in its name. My solution isn’t particularly elegant, and it’s not that intuitive compared to the rest of the Pathfinder system. However, it does work and it’s also pretty much player-proof. Remember, there’s nothing in the magic rules-as-written that allows sorcerers or other instinctive casters to cast more spells per day, so I don’t see why my system should allow players to make the languor check easier (which is essentially the same thing).

So the languor check becomes a flat percentile roll, against the highest level spell you can cast. Observe the following table:

Spell Level Languor Check
Highest castable spell 25%
Highest castable spell -1 30%
Highest castable spell -2 35%
Highest castable spell -3 40%
Highest castable spell -4 45%
Highest castable spell -5 50%
Highest castable spell -6 55%
Highest castable spell -7 60%
Highest castable spell -8 65%
Highest castable spell -9 70%
Highest castable spell -10 75%
Highest castable spell -11 80%
Highest castable spell -12 85%
Highest castable spell -13 90%
Highest castable spell -14 95%

The mechanics should be obvious to any CoC player. The languor check now simply involves rolling a d100 and getting a result that is equal to or less than the figure on the table. A 17th level sorcerer casting a first level spell would have to roll 65 or less on percentile dice.

Having crunched the numbers from the existing languor table (I won’t bore you with the figures here) I noticed that there was some drift even in the base figures for an standard spellcaster. The base chance of casting some spells wound up at 35% instead of 25% just because I got the figures wrong. In equalising that, the difficulties have increased. I’m happy with that, although even taking it into account this table looks a bit harsh. That said, I wanted to create something that was simple, so a 5% boundary between the tiers seemed appropriate. The most obvious figure (10%) would have made it too easy to cast spells.

So we could use the standard table above for languor checks, or if you think it’s too severe, we could do one of three things:

1) We increase the chance of casting the highest level spell you know from 25% to 35%. By keeping the 5% increment between the tiers, this would have a knock on effect of making all languor checks easier to make.

2) We allow the roll to be modified by the character’s ability score modifier. So that 17th level sorcerer with a Charisma of 19 would actually have a 29% chance of making a languor check. The ability score makes less of an impact in a d100 system than it does in a d20 system, but we still provide a nod to characters with very high scores. However, spells or magical items that increase ability scores would also have the effect of modifying the languor check – which is something I’d like to get away from.

3) A combination of the two. Up the base chance to 30% and then apply ability score modifiers on top of that.

I honestly think this is something that needs to be addressed. The status quo created by the house rules can’t be allowed to continue, as it just isn’t robust enough to cope with the all the options presented by such a complex system as third edition. This proposal mitigates the excesses of the system, while at the same time creating a level playing field for all classes. But it is a utilitarian solution. It’s a bit like the saving throws in fourth edition: regardless of your level you have a 55% chance of making a saving throw. It keeps things balanced as characters advance in levels, but at the price of customisation.

Let me know what you think.

Bye, Bye Benevolent Spell

As part of my continuing effort to remove old house rules from the game that could be at odds with Pathfinder, I turn to a feat that was created many moons ago during our first year playing D&D third edition. It is the metamagic feat Benevolent Spell. The text goes a bit like this:

BENEVOLENT SPELL [Metamagic]
You can cast spells that normally only affect yourself on other people.

Benefit: You can cast a spell that normally has a range of “personal” as if it was a touch spell. You are therefore able to cast such spells on another recipients. A benevolent spell uses up a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s actual level.

Now it seems on the face of it, a completely logical metamagic feat. After all there are metamagic feats that let you turn touch attacks into ray attacks; there are metamagic feats that allow you extend spells and widen spells… so why shouldn’t you be able to turn a Personal spell into one you can cast on other people? At least that’s what I though then.

The truth is that Personal spells in D&D and Pathfinder are Personal for a reason. The mechanics of the game start to break down if you allow magic-users to cast them on other characters. Spells like True Strike and Shield are not supposed to be cast willy-nilly around a group of adventurers.

Now, we can argue whether or not a feat is over-powered until the cows come home, but I think there’s one incontrovertible point that backs up my decision to remove Benevolent Spell  from the game. The idea behind the feat is not revolutionary: it is very, very obvious. It’s the simplest and most logical extension of a metamagic feat I can think of… BUT in eleven years of 3.0, 3.5 and Pathfinder supplements an official version of this feat has never appeared.

That tells me there’s something wrong with the feat. And that’s why we’re going to be discretely putting it to bed.

HOWEVER, I am not (after all these years) going to force Ravenna to give up Benevolent Spell. She is such an established character, and she has used this feat so often that it just seems unfair to force this change. So Ravenna is the only character in the entire campaign world who can do this, and the secret dies with her!

If it’s not broke…

Generally speaking, it’s inadvisable to change the printed rules in role-playing games. At the very least it causes confusion, and it can undermine the authority of the GM when he adjudicates a contentious ruling by saying “oh, it doesn’t work that way anymore, I changed it – didn’t I say?”.

Of course, I don’t follow this advice. There isn’t a rule in D&D that I have tinkered with or tried to change at some point in my history as a GM. I’ve been as bad as ever (if not worse) under the Pathfinder rules than under all previous editions of the game. However, even I realise that there are times when it’s better – for the sake of clarity if nothing else – to take the rules as written, even if you’re not 100% behind them.

In this post I present four rules or sub-systems that currently use my own rules instead of the rules as written. I am now starting to think that it might be better not to have changed these in the first place. So consider these four rules, think what is best, and then cast you vote in the polls below. I can’t promise I’ll follow through with the results, but it will give me food for thought. The four areas we are looking at are:

If everyone ready, then we’ll begin:

Weapon Groups

Now, I use the rules for Weapon Group feats as presented in the third edition Unearthed Arcana and reproduced on-line at the d20 srd. This replaces the Pathfinder rules for Basic, Martial and Exotic weapons. I don’t propose to change this at all. The rules for weapon group feats have served me well since 2003, and I like them a great deal. What I’m proposing to change is the list of weapon groups themselves.

Pathfinder already has weapon groups. They aren’t used to determine proficiency in a weapon, but they are used to categorise weapons. Some of the fighter’s class features are tied to weapon groups. At the moment we have two lists of weapon groups in play: one derrived from the list of weapon group feats in Unearthed Arcana and one taken from the Pathfinder rules.

What I have done up until now is take the Unearthed Arcana list as the standard. I even changed some of the Fighter’s abilities accordingly. However, as time passes and Pathfinder starts to expand their list of weapon groups (as they have done in the recent Ultimate Combat) I am wondering if I haven’t made the wrong choice. Wouldn’t it be better to make the Pathfinder list as the definitive and change the weapon groups accordingly?

Here’s how the two lists stack up, side-by-side:

Unearthed Arcana

Pathfinder

Axes Axes
Basic Weapons  
Bows Bows
Claw Weapons Close
Crossbows Crossbows
Druid Weapons  
Exotic Double Weapons  
Exotic Weapons  
Flails & Chains Flails
Heavy Blades Blades, Heavy
Light Blades Blades, Light
Maces & Clubs Hammers
Monk Weapons Monk
Picks & Hammers Hammers
Polearms Polearms
Slings & Thrown Weapons Thrown
Spears & Lances Spears
  Nautral
  Siege Engines

You can see that there isn’t very much difference. Claw Weapons are renamed “Close Weapons”; Picks & Hammers and Maces & Clubs are folded into the new “Hammers” weapon group – which makes kind of sense to me (although, I think that I would call it “Hammers & Picks” just to make it clear that picks are also included in this skill set). Natural Weapons and Siege Weapons are added as weapon groups. Small changes, you might think.

Well, yes and no. Firstly, Pathfinder doesn’t have a “Basic Weapons” category. This is simply because the Pathfinder weapon groups aren’t designed to be used as proficiencies. If they were, then undoubtedly they would keep something akin to Basic Weapons. Equally, we don’t see “Exotic Weapons” as a category either, or “Druid Weapons” for that matter.

If we consider that weapons can belong to more than one weapon group, and if we acknowledge the necessity of adding things like Basic Weapons and Exotic Weapons back into the list then I think the Pathfinder categories work rather well. I like separating Natural Weapons, and “Close Weapons” is a better grouping than “Claw Weapons” in my opinion.

The only place where this falls down a little is Siege Weapons. If “Siege Weapons” becomes a proficiency (Weapon Group: Siege Weapons) the we have to slightly revise the rules for Siege Warfare depicted in Ultimate Combat.  In those rules attacks with indirect siege engines (e.g. catapults and trebuchets) are made by rolling your Base Attack Bonus + either your Intelligence Modifier or your ranks in Knowledge (engineering) against the DC of the siege engine. Direct attacks (with weapons like arbalests) run of a normal attack roll with an escalating penalty depending on the weapon size.

Counting Siege Engines as a weapon group wouldn’t overtly change the maths at work here. The base attack would be rolled normally – with the exception that the -4 non-proficiency penalty would apply equally to direct and indirect fire siege engines. There’s no reason we couldn’t say that attack rolls were modified by Int (or ranks in Knowledge Engineering) instead of Str or Dex. So it’s not a great change: but one worth making.

So, based on these changes the Weapon Groups would look like this:

  • Axes
  • Basic Weapons
  • Blades, Light
  • Blades, Heavy
  • Bows
  • Close Weapons
  • Crossbows
  • Druid
  • Exotic Weapons
  • Flails
  • Hammers & Picks
  • Monk
  • Natural
  • Polearms
  • Siege Engines
  • Thrown

There’s still a few anomalies – whips fall under the Flails proficiency, for example – but these are anomalies of the Pathfinder game and not of my House Rules. Plus, we’re able to dispense with the Exotic Double Weapons feat, which always struck me as a bit odd. Also, none of the above stops me from adding further weapon groups if I want to – so Mariner Weapons, or weapons specific to certain clergies are still entirely possible. I’m leaning toward this change, however small it may be.

Cast your vote in the poll and be heard:

The Spellcasting Focus

Right, this is fairly straight-forward. In the hosue rules most spell casters use a focus to channel their magic. This mechanic has largely replaced spell components. That’s not going to change. However, the rules regarding how the spell focus (the wand, the ring, the holy symbol etc.) functions could well change. Here are my house rules on the topic:

Almost all spellcasters have a special focus that they used to direct their magic. Many traditions and character classes favour particular types of foci over others. Wizards, for example, are very fond of wands and gnarled staffs; druids have a penchant for mistletoe; and clerics use their holy symbol as their focus. However, these are simply conventions. The truth is that the spellcaster can choose any object as his focus as long as he abides by the following guidelines:

The construction of a focus is a complex and exacting task. It can’t just be any old thing: a wizard can’t unscrew the head of a broom and call the handle his magic staff. Only the best materials, harvested in just the right manner and brought together by a master of his craft, will result in an object that is capable of being used as a magical focus.

Each focus is created with a specific caster in mind. It is an inherently personal item that functions for the benefit of the caster, and only the caster. A wizard isn’t using some random staff, he’s using his staff. Each focus is attuned to a particular spellcaster, and cannot immediately be used by any other spellcaster.

In order to cast a spell to its fullest effect, the caster must have his magical focus. This focus must be held in his hand and presented in a forthright manner. As long as this is the case then the spell is cast normally as per the description of the spell.

Without a focus, spells can still be cast but spellcaster’s effective caster level is halved. In addition, he loses access to the most powerful level of spells he can cast until he regains his focus.

Advantages of Foci: Although foci seem to be the spell caster’s Achilles Heel, they are actually extremely useful things. Spellcasters can take a number of implement feats that change the way magical spells work when they are cast through a focus. Foci also exist as magical items, conferring even more interesting abilities onto spellcasters. Those few magic-using classes that do not have foci often wish they did.

Traditions and Foci: A focus is only good for one particular magical tradition. A multiclass cleric/wizard would need two foci: one for his divine spells, and one for his arcane spells. Switching between separate foci during combat would mean dropping one (a free action) and drawing another (a move action). The feat Combine Foci can help with this limitation.

Changing Foci: A spellcaster’s focus is bound to him and him alone. A wizard gains no advantage in picking up another wizard’s focus. In order for a focus to be of benefit to a spellcaster it has to be attuned. This can be done during a special ritual that lasts for one hour (and that all spellcasters know). Once a new focus is attuned to the spellcaster, the old focus can no longer be used. A spellcaster can have no more than one attuned focus at any one time – unless he takes the Dual Focus feat.

Enchanting Foci: Spellcasters have an easier time enchanting their own magical focus than other items. A spellcaster enchanting his own focus uses the standard rules with the exception that the ritual only costs half as much, and takes half as long. So if your focus was a ring, and you wanted to turn your focus into a Ring of Djinni Calling then you would follow all the usual steps except you would only need to find 31,250 gp (not 62,500) and it would only take you 500 hours (not 1000). The cost to maintain your lab, hire the right people and acquire the raw materials would still be the same. If you use these rules for enchanting your focus, you cannot have anyone else help you during the process. It is, after all, an intensely personal process.

However, Pathfinder has it’s own rules for spellcasting foci, or “bonded objects” as they call them. Of course, bonded objects are only supposed to apply to wizards who choose a focus instead of a familiar, however, there’s no reason they couldn’t apply more widely. Consider the rules as they appear in the description of the wizard from the Core Rules (edited slightly to remove all reference to the familiar):

At 1st level, wizards form a powerful bond with an object. The bonded object is an item a wizard can use to cast additional spells or to serve as a magical item. Wizards begin play with one bonded object at no cost. Objects that are the subject of an arcane bond must fall into one of the following categories: amulet, ring, staff, wand, or weapon. These objects are always masterwork quality. Weapons acquired at 1st level are not made of any special material. If the object is an amulet or ring, it must be worn to have effect, while staves, wands, and weapons must be wielded. If a wizard attempts to cast a spell without his bonded object worn or in hand, he must make a concentration check or lose the spell. The DC for this check is equal to 20 + the spell’s level. If the object is a ring or amulet, it occupies the ring or neck slot accordingly.

A bonded object can be used once per day to cast any one spell that the wizard has in his spellbook and is capable of casting, even if the spell is not prepared. This spell is treated like any other spell cast by the wizard, including casting time, duration, and other effects dependent on the wizard’s level. This spell cannot be modified by metamagic feats or other abilities. The bonded object cannot be used to cast spells from the wizard’s opposition schools (see arcane school).

A wizard can add additional magic abilities to his bonded object as if he has the required item creation feats and if he meets the level prerequisites of the feat. For example, a wizard with a bonded dagger must be at least 5th level to add magic abilities to the dagger (see the Craft Magic Arms and Armor feat in Chapter 5). If the bonded object is a wand, it loses its wand abilities when its last charge is consumed, but it is not destroyed and it retains all of its bonded object properties and can be used to craft a new wand. The magic properties of a bonded object, including any magic abilities added to the object, only function for the wizard who owns it. If a bonded object’s owner dies, or the item is replaced, the object reverts to being an ordinary masterwork item of the appropriate type.

If a bonded object is damaged, it is restored to full hit points the next time the wizard prepares his spells. If the object of an arcane bond is lost or destroyed, it can be replaced after 1 week in a special ritual that costs 200 gp per wizard level plus the cost of the masterwork item. This ritual takes 8 hours to complete. Items replaced in this way do not possess any of the additional enchantments of the previous bonded item. A wizard can designate an existing magic item as his bonded item. This functions in the same way as replacing a lost or destroyed item except that the new magic item retains its abilities while gaining the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a bonded item.

Okay. A few provisos. I am not thinking of adopting the Pathfinder rules for bonded objects whole cloth. I’m most interested in what happens when a character loses his focus. Here are the differences:

  • My rules: Without a focus caster level is halved and the caster loses access to the highest level spells he can cast.
  • Pathfinder rules: Caster must make a concentration check (DC 20 + spell level) to  cast a spell without a focus.

 And that’s the choice I want you to make in this poll:

Casting Defensively

Okay, I’ll keep this one brief. In third edition it was called “casting defensively”, in Pathfinder it is called “casting on the defensive”. What it means is that characters who cast spells while in the threat range of their foes provoke attacks of opportunity unless they successfully focus on both the spell and the combat simultaneously. This is what the game says about casting on the defensive:

Casting on the Defensive: Casting a spell while on the defensive does not provoke an attack of opportunity. It does, however, require a concentration check (DC 15 + double the spell’s level) to successfully cast the spell. Failure means that you lose the spell.

Let’s spell this out. If you standing in combat with someone who means you harm and you cast a spell then you provoke an attack of opportunity. If that attack of opportunity hits, then you need to make a concentration check at DC 10 + the damage dealth + the spell’s level (because the attack hits at the moment you’re casting the spell). If your concentration check fails, then the spell is lost.

You can attempt to avoid provoking this attack of opportunity by casting on the defensive. This DC is probably slightly easier (DC 20 + twice the spell level), but no that much easier. You must make this roll before casting every spell that would otherwise provoke an attack of opportunity. If you fail this roll then your spell is lost, however you don’t provoke the attack of opportunity regardless of whether you succeed or fail.

There’s no Concentration skill in Pathfinder as there was in D&D 3.5. Your concentration check is 1d20 + your caster level + the ability score modifier that governs you spellcaster. The combat casting feat gives you another +4 to the roll.

My house rules are easier to remember, and much kinder to spell casters:

It simply isn’t possible for most spellcasters to cast a spell and pay attention to the battlefield around them. Casting a spell while you are within mêlée range of an opponent provokes an attack of opportunity from that opponent. If the attack of opportunity hits (and doesn’t immediately kill or bloody the target), then the spellcaster must make a special concentration check or the spell is disrupted.

The caster must roll 1d20 + caster level + relevant spellcasting ability score modifier (e.g. Intelligence for a wizards, Charisma for a bard or Wisdom for a cleric). The DC of the check is 10 + the damage dealt + the level of the spell you are trying to cast.

If the check succeeds then the spell is cast normally. If the check fails then the spell is disrupted. A disrupted spell has no effect, but it still disappears from the mind of Acquired casters, and still prompts a languor check from Instinctive casters.

Spellcasters can defend themselves against these attacks of opportunity by selecting the Combat Casting feat. Spellcasters with combat casting do not provoke attacks of opportunity when casting their spells in mêlée.

However, even characters with combat casting may still find the spells disrupted by canny opponents. Any attack that strikes and damages the spellcaster during the moment of casting prompts a concentration as above. For spells that are cast as one standard action, the attacker must actively ready an action that is contingent on the casting of the spell. However, some spells take rounds or minutes to cast. Any attack during this time, whether readied or not, calls for a concentration check. In these cases, combat casting grants +4 to the concentration check.

Very different rules. My take is based on the way combat manouevres like Trip, Bull Rush and the like function in Pathfinder. If you have a feat that helps you (e.g. Improved Trip) then you never provoke attacks of opportunity from performing this action, if you don’t have the feat then you always provoke attacks of opportunity. That’s what I am hoping to achive with combat casting. Basically combat casting is to spellcasting, as Improved Grapple is to grabbing someone.

But is it too kind? Do you think that spellcasters need to be put throught more of a ringer than they are? Vote in the poll below:


Polymorph

Okay, we’ve been down this road before, but I’m still not satisfied with how polymorph – and spells like it – function at the moment in the House Rules. Please bear in mind that anything we decide here will also apply to Wildshape. Here is the full text of the house-rule version of the Polymorph spell:

Polymorph
Transmutation (Polymorph)
Level: Arcane 4, Divine (Change) 4
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal
Target: You
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)

This powerful spell allows the subject to take on the form of another creature. When a spellcaster gains or develops this spell then he must choose two specific kinds of creature that he can transform into. Every time he casts the spell, he must choose which of these two creatures to become.

At any point after gaining this spell, the caster may attempt to add additional creatures to his polymorph repertoire. Simply seeing new creatures or knowing of their existence is not enough; the caster must research each additional creature using the same rules as an acquired spellcaster researching new spells. Once a creature has been researched it is added to the list of potential creatures that can be assumed. There is no limit to the number of different creatures that can be available through the Polymorph spell, as long as each creature follows the guidelines laid down below:

The new form may be the same type as the subject of the spell, or any of the following types: aberration, animal, dragon, fey, giant, humanoid, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, ooze, plant or vermin. The assumed form cannot have more hit dice than your hit dice or caster level (whichever is lower), to a maximum of 15 HD at fifteenth level. You cannot assume a form that is Miniscule or Colossal with the Polymorph spell, neither can you assume an incorporeal or gaseous form. You may not take the form of any creature with a Template.

When assuming a new form you gain some, but not all of the new form’s abilities. Equally, you lose some (but not all) of your own abilities. This addition and subtraction of your character’s ability and statistics can be complex, and it is strongly suggested that players whose characters can cast this spell create full statistics for their characters in each of their available forms. If the player does not have such statistics immediately to hand, then the GM may rule that the spell cannot be cast at this time.

All characters have certain abilities derrived from their race, and certain abilities derrived from their class. Polymorph does not alter the abilities gained from the subject’s character class: therefore all your class abilities are available in your new form. The only exception to this rule is if your new form simply isn’t capable of performing the class ability. For example, if the assumed form cannot talk or hold a focus then it cannot cast spells. If the assumed form has no legs then the flying kick feat is useless. If the assumed form cannot wield a sword then it cannot make use of the suite of combat feats that depend upon using a sword. On the whole, these restrictions should be obvious. The GM and the player should discuss what they are each time a new form is added to the character’s polymorph repertoire.

The character’s racial abilities are significantly altered. However, Polymorph only affects a physical change to the character: it does not allow access to any of the magical or supernatural abilities associated with the new form. Neither does it affect your character’s mind or mental acuity. A summary of the changes wrought by the Polymorph spell are as follows:

Racial Features Gained:

  • Gain the new form’s Type and Subtype (if any).
  • Gain the new form’s Strength, Dexterity and Constitution scores. These changes modify your skills, attack rolls, saving throws, CMB and CMD, but not your hit points.
  • Gain the gross physical qualities of the new form: this includes the creature’s appearance, colour, number of limbs, wings and so forth. Characters can decide the form’s more specific qualities such as height, gender and hair colour as long as it is within the norm for the race.
  • Gain the mundane movement capabilities of the new form: including burrowing, climbing, walking, swimming, flying with wings. You speed can never be more than 30 ft. (swimming or burrowing), 60 ft. (on land) or 120 ft. (flying) regardless of what a normal creature of this race
  • Gain the natural weapons of the new form, and proficiency in them. However changing form doesn’t give you any extra attacks. If you assume the form of a bear you don’t automatically gain its claw/claw/bite attack routine. If you only have one attack per round, then you still only have one attack per round in the new form, but you can choose which natural weapon to attack with.
  • Gain any racial bonuses to skills.
  • Gain the Natural Armour Bonus to armour class of the new form.
  • Gain the Size of the new form. This may mean applying a size modifier to your Armour Class and attack rolls (but not to your ability scores).
  • Gain the new form’s Exceptional racial abilities.
  • Gain any bonus racial feats of the new form as long as those feats provide Exceptional advantages. Bonus feats that provide Magical or Supernatural advantages at not gained.

Racial Features Retained:

  • Retain your Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma scores.
  • Retain your own hit point total (do not modify your hit points even if your Constitution score changes as a result of the Polymorph).
  • Retain your own Magical and Supernatural racial abilities.
  • Retain your own base saving throws.
  • Retain your own base attack bonus.
  • Retain the ability ability to speak, as long as the new form is able to speak intelligbly – i.e. it has a decernible language, not just the ability to make sounds.

Racial Features Lost:

  • Lose your Type and subtype (if any).
  • Lose your Strength, Dexterity and Consitution scores.
  • Lose your gross physical qualities – i.e. appearance and form.
  • Lose your mundane movement capabilities (these are replaced by the new form)
  • Lose your natural attacks (if any).
  • Lose any Exceptional racial abilities that you possess.
  • Lose any racial bonuses to skills (but don’t lose any extra skill points conferred because of your race – such as the bonus points granted to a human).
  • Lose your Natural Armour Bonus to armour class (if any)
  • Lose your Size (and any size modifiers to armour class and attacks).
  • Lose any bonus racial feats you have (this includes the bonus feat that humans receive at first level). If the lost feat is a prerequisite for any other feats, then also lose access to those feats for the duration of the spell.

Upon casting this spell, you are effectively disguised as a member of the assumed race. If you want to disguise yourself as a specific individual, then the Polymorph spell grants a +10 bonus to the disguise check.

When the change occurs your equipment, if any, either remains worn or held by the new form (if it is capable of wearing or holding the item), or melds into the new form. Items that provide constant bonuses and do not need to be activated continue to function while melded in this way (with the excpetion of armour and shield bonuses, which cease to function). Items that require activation cannot be used while you maintain that form.

When you revert to your true form, any objects previously melded into the new form reappear in the same location on your body they previously occupied and are once again functional. Any new items you wore in the assumed form and can’t wear in your normal form fall off and land at your feet; any item that you could wear in either form or carry in a body part common to both forms at the time of reversion are still held in the same way.

Any part of the body, or piece of equipment, that is separated from the whole reverts to its true form. Should the subject die when in the assumed form, then he immediately reverts back to his true form upon death.

In Pathfinder, you don’t actually take on the full stats of the creature you become. Instead you take on the form and appearance of the creature, and a number of special abilities if the creature has them, and if they are listed in the description of the spell. Polymorph has been replaced with the following suite of spells. Have a good read, and then come back to vote.

So what do you think? Which version is better? My house rules are very much based on third edition D&D before the Great Polymorph Errata was imposed. Does this make it doubly broken? Consider how easy the rules can be implemented in play, whether they work mechanically, whether they work from a narrative perspective (i.e. the verisimulitude), and whether they just feel ‘right’.

Bonus Poll for Druids

Okay – finally. I don’t think all the rules for Wildshape work very well. Namely, the one about druids being able to change form as often as they like with an increasing chance of being stuck in that form forever. Here is the full text of those house rules: 

Although the druid can Wildshape at-will, his level governs the number of times he can safely attempt the change. The druid may wildshape safely 1/day at level five, 2/day at level six and gains one more safe use of wildshape at each even-numbered level to a maximum of eight safe uses at level eighteen. If the druid wildshapes beyond these safe limits then the following rules apply:

The first wildshape each day beyond the safe limit imposed by the druid’s level functions normally. However, the druid must make a special level check to revert to his original form. The check is 1d20 + the druid’s level + the druid’s Wisdom modifier. The DC of this check is 21. If the check succeeds then the druid reverts to his original form normally. He may then (if he chooses) attempt to Wildshape again. However, each additional Wildshape attempt adds a cumulative +2 to the DC of the level check to revert to his own form.

If the level check fails then druid is stuck in his creature form until dawn the following day. At this point he can make another level check (at +2 to the DC of the previous check) to revert to his original form. If he fails again then he remains stuck for another day, before he can try the check again (at an additional +2 to the DC). He continues making checks at an increasing DC each dawn until he either succeeds or fails four successive checks. If four checks are failed then the druid remains in his creature form forever and may take on the mentality and nature of the creature.

At twentieth level, the druid does not need to worry about  these checks, as he is able to Wildshape safely at-will with no penalty.

I have two problems with these rules. Firstly, they diminish the awesomeness of the druid’s 20th level ability to wildshape at-will, and secondly I think this rule has only come into play twice in the last eleven years (and that’s with a druid in practically every party). So I would propose to make a change thusly:

The number of times per day the druid can wildshape is definied in his class description: 1/day at level five, 2/day at level six and one further use per day at each even-numbered level thereafter to a maximum of eight safe uses at level eighteen. If needs be the druid can wildshape once more than this limit suggests – however if he does so, he is automatically stuck in his new form until after he takes an extended rest.

You know the drill by now:

I would also be interested to hear any thoughts about limiting the amount of time druids can spend in their wildshaped forms (as per the rules) as opposed to being able to remain in animal form indefinitely.

And there we have it. Long post – but stuff I’ve been ruminating on. Now let the comments commence:

Pathfinder House Rules

Hello all. It’s been a while since my last post. During that time, I’ve been concentrating on getting the new rules in run-fit shape, as well as doing an untold amount of slightly more annoying things. For those of you following my exciting adventures in roleplaying from a distance, it’s time to get you all up to date:

The Iourn campaign has moved from third edition D&D (version 3.5) into Pathfinder. My weekly, and my twice-yearly campaign, are now using these rules. Both are at entirely different ends of the player-power spectrum so it’ll be interesting to compare how successful they are mechanically. Because I am an inveterate fiddler (when it comes to rules, at least) the campaigns also make use of a medley of house rules – many of which have already been discussed on this site.

I’m now posting the latest versions of all these rules to the blog for wider edification and comment. I doubt I’ll add any further PDF updates here, as I’m trying my best to get them into a format a can upload to the new Iourn.com. I’m hoping to have that site ready before next Spring. I can dream.

However, I do have some rule-related matters that I intend to discuss on the blog in the fairly near future. I’m also working on an updated version of the Swashbuckler class for Pathfinder that I’d like to run past everyone.

The New Rules

Below are links that will take you to PDF copies of my house rules. Please use the comments below to leave your thoughts if you feel so inclined.

Rules Miscellany

Character Classes

Magic

Spells

Feats

Cleric Domains (Excel)

Cleric Domain Power