Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tackling Spellcasting     

Whenever I sit down to muck with whatever D&D rules have come out most recently (which is fairly often), I always say to myself:  "just leave the spells and magic section for later."  And, inevitably, I will immediately be drawn down into the rabbit hole of analyzing and rewriting the spells and magic section, and banging my head against the wall as to why mage armor is still a Conjuration spell (thank you Fifth Edition for fixing this!) and what exactly the point of the Transmutation school is (spells that change people or stuff, to make them better or worse, except not magic weapons, because that's Enchantment, and not cursing, because that's Necromancy, and who the heck knows why message is in here...)

See, even in that paragraph, I got drawn down the rabbit hole!  I cannot keep out of it.  But, in this post, I swear, I am not going to get into individual spells.  Instead, I'd just like to talk about spellcasting, generally, as a class ability.

Out of the eleven core classes in Pathfinder and Third Edition D&D, only four are non-spellcasters.  And one of those, the rogue, can actually cast a few spells through Rogue Talents.  Each class has its own spell list, gains spells at a different rate, prepares spells in different ways, casts a different number of spells each day, and requires different components to do so.

Compare this, for example, to the combat rules regarding fighting with weapons.  All but two of the eleven core classes can use crossbows, and they all use the same rules for doing so.  What makes a fighter better at firing a crossbow than a wizard is separate from the rules about how crossbows work.  This is what I would like to do with Spellcasting.  There would be only one class component for Spellcasting, because it would all work in the same basic way.  It would then be modified by other components of your character class.

Which Ability Score Should Spellcasting Use?

One way in which the different classes approach spellcasting is that they use different ability scores to do it.  Clerics, druids, and rangers use Wisdom; bards, paladins, and sorcerers use Charisma; and wizards use Intelligence.  There isn't, as far as I can tell, a reason why these particular ability scores are used.  Paladins cast divine magic, but sorcerers cast arcane magic.  Bards do not need to prepare their spells, but paladins do.  All three classes use Charisma as their ability score for casting spells.  Let's look at the sort of things that having a high ability score will give you, with respect to spellcasting:
  • Determines whether or not you are able to cast spells of a particular level at all.
  • Grants a number of bonus spells per day.
  • Grants a bonus on the DC for opponents to save vs. your spells.
The first two rules are odd, to say the least.  Most other class abilities that are based on an ability score have a set number of uses per day, and then either add or subtract their ability modifier to that number of uses.  It would make more sense if low scores for spellcasters resulted in the opposite of bonus spells, i.e., you can cast fewer spells per day, instead of not being able to cast at all.  Moreover, ability scores do not grant a flat bonus of "plus however many spells per day."  Instead, there is a table that limits these bonus uses of spells by level, meaning that a first level character will have a maximum of "gain one bonus spell per day" and a minimum of "can't cast spells at all."

The third rule affects some, but not all of your spellcasting actions.  Specifically, it only affects spells that require a saving throw from your opponent.  These spells are offensive in nature, since spells that boost your abilities or the abilities of your allies do not require a saving throw.  Nor do spells that are cast on non-creature targets, generally speaking.  And many offensive spells do not having a saving throw, but are instead resolved with melee touch attacks or ranged touch attacks (making the relevant ability scores Strength or Dexterity, respectively).  Indeed, only about 26% of the Pathfinder Core Rules, first level cleric spells require a saving throw.  That number rises only slightly, to 27%, when considering first level wizard spells.

It is with this context in mind that I would like to propose the following:  eliminate ability requirements for accessing high level spells, and standardize what ability score determines save DCs with respect to all spell casting.  Other facets of spell casting, including number of spells per day, can be determined by whether your Spellcasting component is primary, secondary, or tertiary, and what other class components your character has.  The challenge will be keeping the distinct flavor of each major spell casting class, and keeping the ability scores balanced within the game.

Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma: a Brief History of the Dump Stats

In original versions of D&D, you did not always have control over where your ability scores were placed.  It was also fairly likely that you would have one or more ability scores that were below average.  So the concept of the "dump stat" started very early in D&D's history.  Charisma was the primary target, since the system didn't provide very much incentive to take a high Charisma, unless you were a paladin.  But Wisdom and Intelligence were not far behind, especially before the advent of a skill system and the all-important Perception skill.  Wisdom was important for clerics, and Intelligence for magic users, but neither was particularly important for any of the fighting types.

Second Edition added school specialization rules for wizards that required very high ability scores in something else other than Intelligence, presumably in an attempt to balance and differentiate them.  However, this approach was not particularly successful, and was dropped in Third Edition.  Third Edition's approach was to add a robust skill system based around Intelligence.  The Will saving throw and the Perception skill made Wisdom useful.  Charisma was used for several key skills and special abilities, as well as being the core of the new Sorcerer class.

Intelligence, however, suffered major setbacks when it came to Pathfinder.  Originally, the number of skills you received at first level was multiplied times four.  An 18 Intelligence score could translate, therefore, into twenty-four (!) additional skill points for a first level character (and an additional four per level).  Pathfinder changed this rule (for good reasons) so that instead you would only receive four extra skill points at first level (and an additional four per level).

These extra skill points from Intelligence were not bonuses, but rather ranks.  This is important, because in Third Edition you could spend up to your character's level +3 in ranks into a skill.  However, in Pathfinder, you can only spend up to your character's level.  This means that additional skill ranks will give a character more skills, but not higher skills.

In Third Edition, Intelligence added to the following skills:  Appraise, Craft, Decipher Script, Disable Device, Forgery, Knowledge, Search, and Spellcraft.  In Pathfinder, however, the Decipher Script and Forgery skills were eliminated.  Search was incorporated into Perception, which remained based on Wisdom.  And the important skill of Disable Device was made into a Dexterity skill.  This left only five skills (with the newly added Linguistics) for Intelligence in Pathfinder.

Intelligence as the Primary Spellcasting Ability Score

My house rules would make Intelligence the ability score used for calculating all spell saving throw DCs, regardless of class.  How would this impact the other spellcasting classes?

Bards are often already high Intelligence characters, since they have access to all Knowledge skills (as well as the other four Intelligence based skills).  Their Charisma will be less useful for spell casting, but will remain critical for their Perform-based abilities and bardic performances.

Clerics will be at somewhat of a disadvantage, since they are not generally high Intelligence characters.  However, their Domain abilities are often Wisdom based.  By standardizing that rule, that Domain components work off of Wisdom, it will remain an important score for clerics.  To further keep Wisdom as the primary ability score of clerics, it could be substituted with Charisma as the score which determines how many channel energy uses the cleric receives.  This will also serve to further distinguish clerics from druids, as clerics will be higher Wisdom whereas druids will be higher charisma.

Druids are also not generally high Intelligence characters.  However, the trade off from Wisdom to Intelligence is unlikely to affect druids very much.  Their abilities are generally Charisma based.  The advantages that a higher Wisdom brings are mostly in the area of skill bonuses, will be offset by additional skills in the form of higher Intelligence.

Paladin and ranger are tertiary spell casting classes.  Their spells are focused primary on buffing, and they will not be unduly hindered by having somewhat lower save DCs.

Similar to the cleric's domain being important for Wisdom, sorcerers will keep Charisma as a primary ability score by making it critical for their Bloodline abilities.  But Sorcerers will have to have a decent Intelligence score as well.  Currently, Sorcerers have less need for Intelligence than Fighters do (after all, fighters might want to take combat expertise).  This is a change that I think will enhance game balance, and to the extent that sorcerers are less accurate in their targeting of spell effects, I think that makes for good story as well.  Wizards are the spell experts, and sorcerers are the rogue talents who don't know nearly enough about the massive powers that they can wield.

It's a big change, but a change that I think makes for a better game system.  Next post, a breakdown of Spellcasting and how primary, secondary, and tertiary components differ!

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