Monday, February 6, 2017

Building a Spellcaster    

Spells and spellcasting take up an enormous portion of the rules of any D&D product.  It certainly isn't the only way to create a comprehensive magic system (see Ars Magica, for example), but D&D and Pathfinder insist on having each and every potential magical action described, in detail, each with its own rules.  This is not necessarily a bad thing!  D&D has at its core a tactical combat game.  Designing a magic system with the breadth of the entire fantasy genre, that can be applied to the very narrow focus of tactical combat, is a fairly astounding feat.  For those of us who love the D&D magic system, even the parts that we sometimes hate, it is an integral part of the game.

That said, it has become so incredibly huge that it is barely workable for experienced players, much less for new players.  Consider, for example, the number of charts in just the core Pathfinder rules that deal with the number of spells that a character either casts or learns per caster level:  there are ten of them.

In addition, spellcasting hasn't really caught up with the evolution of the rest of the system.  No where is that more clear than in the multiclass rules.  Once you decide to be a spellcaster, anything that you do that takes you away from that specific spellcasting class is going to make your character substantially less powerful.  A fighter/barbarian, or fighter/ranger is a perfectly acceptable path, but a sorcerer/wizard is simply not.  (As an aside, I had a player play a sorcerer/wizard in one of my campaigns, and he was an excellent character.  This is not to besmirch the concept at all, just the way that the rules support that concept.)

In case it wasn't clear by now, it is my intention for these house rules to eliminate the need for multiclassing.  And I believe that Pathfinder has made moves in that direction as well.  For example, the hybrid classes essentially do what I am doing, but in a much more limited way: they combine the components of two classes together, so that you can level up in both at the same time.  The Arcanist, for example, is Pathfinder's solution to the sorcerer/wizard problem.

Why is this important for story? The short answer is, it isn't directly important, but the ways that it indirectly impacts the story add up to a big difference.  First, simpler rules allow new players to feel more welcome.  Having new players feel welcome leads to a table with more diverse viewpoints and experiences, which leads to better story.  Second, having spellcasting be an addable (and removable) component allows the gamemaster to easily turn the dial on how much magic they want in their campaign.  Eventually, this blog will turn to the subject of gamemastering, and how class components can be set up for particular genres of fantasy.  It may be that you want spellcasting to be a rare, but powerful thing.  An easy way to accomplish this is to eliminate Secondary and Tertiary Spellcasting, and only allow it to be a Primary component.  Or, alternatively, you may want magic to be pervasive, but not as powerful.  Doing the opposite, and allowing Tertiary Spellcasting only will accomplish this.  Rules that support genre will, in turn, support good story.  Third, streamlined spellcasting rules make the game go faster.  It means that a larger amount of the time that you have to sit down and play the game can go toward advancing the story, rather than fiddling with rules and looking things up.


Requirements:  none (but see restrictions below)

Hit Dice:  no change

Skills:  Spellcasters gain the following class skills:  Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, Use Magic Device

Base Attack Bonus:  no change

Saving Throws: Spellcasters advance quickly in Will saving throws.

Additional Spells:  see below

Special Abilities:  Spellcasters are able to prepare and cast magic spells.  Preparing spells requires the spellcaster to be well-rested (eight hours of rest), and to spend one hour of preparation time in a relatively peaceful environment.  Note that other class components may provide additional restrictions or advantages in preparing and casting spells.

Spells Per Day:  Spellcasters can generally cast at least two spells per day of the highest spell level that they can cast, at least three spells per day of the second highest spell level that they can cast, and four spells per day for all other spell levels.  They begin able to cast only first level spells or lower.  They gain access to a new level of spell every two character levels.  When they do not gain access to a new spell level (on even numbered levels), they instead gain an additional spell for every level that then can cast at, to a maximum of four.  Their progression thus looks like this (apologies, as Blogger doesn't seem to be able to do tables):

Character     Spell Level
Level           0             1st           2nd         3rd         4th

1                  3             2
2                  4             3
3                  4             3             2
4                  4             4             3
5                  4             4             3             2
6                  4             4             4             3
7                  4             4             4             3             2
8                  4             4             4             3             3

Spells Known:  Spellcasters know a number of spells equal to twice the number of spells that they can cast.  They can choose from this list when preparing their spells to cast.  For example, if a spellcaster can cast two second-level spells, three first-level spells, and four zero-level spells per day, they will have four second-level spells, six first-level spells, and eight zero-level spells in their repertoire to choose from.

Special Restrictions:  All Spellcasters must choose one of the following restrictions below.  Secondary Spellcasters must choose two restrictions, and Tertiary Spellcasters must choose three.
  • Delayed Spellcasting:  Instead of being able to cast spells at first level, spellcasters with this restriction do not begin to learn to cast spells until they are fourth level.  At that point, they continue to learn at the normal rate, reducing their character level by three for the purposes of spells and spellcasting).
  • Limited Spell List:  Initially, all spellcasters gain access to the same list of spells.  They will also gain access to additional spells through other class components.  However, spellcasters who take this restriction cannot learn some of the more powerful spells available.  A breakdown of individual spells and how to create spell lists for your campaign is the subject of a later post.
  • Required Item:  In order to prepare and cast spells, the caster must have a particular unique item available.  Note that this restriction cannot be taken if the spellcaster does not have to prepare spells (due to an ability from another class component).  The eschew materials feat does not remove the requirement to have this item.
  • Slow Learning:  Spellcasters with this restriction know half the number of spells that they can cast per day (rounded up), instead of twice that number.  Note that this restriction cannot be taken if the spellcaster has a way to learn more than the usual number of spells (due to an ability from another class component).
  • Slow Progress:  Spellcasters with this restriction gain access to a new level of spell every three character levels, instead of every two character levels.  If desired, this restriction can be taken twice.  Spellcasters who do so gain access to a new level of spell every four character levels.

Existing Spellcasting Classes

How does this look for our existing spellcasting classes?  Currently, we have three Primary Spellcaster classes:  druid, wizard, and sorcerer.  While all have Primary Spellcaster, they are distinguished by their other components and also by the special restrictions that they have chosen.  Druids have the special restriction of Limited Spell List, which removes some of the traditional "wizard only" spells such as magic missile, but druids can still gain additional spells to add to their list from their other components.  Wizards will have Secondary Scholar component, which will give them access to many more potentially known spells, but at the cost of having to scribe them into their spellbook.  Their restriction is Required Item: Spellbook.  Sorcerers have a Secondary Bloodline component which will give them an increased number of spells per day, as well as giving them access to a more spells for their list based on their birthright.  They will also have a component that removes the requirement for preparing spells in advance, making them more versatile casters.  Their restriction could either by Slow Learning or Slow Progress, but I strongly prefer giving them Slow Learning.   In comparison to current Pathfinder rules, this will mean they have a few less spells to cast, but will gain new levels of spells at the same time as wizards do.

Our cleric and bard have Secondary Spellcaster components.  Clerics take the restrictions of Limited Spell List and Required Item, which is their holy symbol.  They can then gain additional spells from their Primary Healer component, as well as from their Domain component.  Bards currently have the restrictions Limited Spell List and Slow Progress.  They share a component with sorcerer that will enable them to not need to prepare spells in advance.

Finally paladins and rangers have Tertiary Spellcaster components.  Assuming they are not traded out for something else, they will have the limitations of Delayed Spellcasting, Limited Spell List, and Slow Progress.

Next up is the Jack-of-all-Trades, but Master-of-None, the Bard!

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