Please, read it all – this post is large but full of suggestions.
Well, I’ve playing D&D since the 3rd edition, then changed to 4th, and now I’m really excited about D&D Next (or should I say D&D Previously? It feels so much like 3rd edition… =P)
Obviously, in each edition, there are aspects which I love but also things that I’d very much like to see it changed. Being so, I believe it’s for the best that this new edition absorbs the strengths of the last editions. However, I’m having the impression that, in some aspects, the new edition regressed to 3.5 even though that same characteristic was better at 4th (just because people wanted it to be like 3.5? I don’t know).
For instance, one such aspect is the magic. Not the magic system itself, but the magic “flavor”. It seemed to me that this new edition disregarded everything good about 4th and returned to the 3.5 system. I have some complaints and suggestions about this.
PRIMAL MAGIC. In 3.5, magic was divided in arcane and divine (and later on, psionics, but that’s irrelevant to this post), and the druid’s (and rangers, and similar classes) magic was dubbed “divine”, even though it felt different from divine. I (and my whole group) never liked that division – it felt that the druid was different enough from clerics (and paladins, and favoured souls….) but didn’t have its own identity. In 4th, the primal magic theme gave druids and other nature/spiritual casters a lot more flavor and differentiation from clerics and divine casters. The druid was given a strong sense of identity, instead of being seen as a “different cleric”.
So, in the playtest, the first line in the Magic chapter says: “Spells come in two types: arcane and divine”. It even mentioned the psionic powers – but the primal magic is not mentioned. Well, it’s my opinion that “primal” should be a type of spell different from “divine”, and therefore druids and other classes (rangers, if they cast spells like they used to in 3rd, or barbarians, if they used primal powers like they do in 4th, or shamans) would have primal spells that are different in essence than the cleric’s and paladin’s form of magic.
Those types don’t even need to be different from a mechanical point of view in that the rules for casting a divine spell could be the same, or very similar, to those of casting a primal spell), but at least they should feel different.
MAGIC SHCOOLS. Well, I never really liked the spell schools of 3.5. It’s not that I don’t like the concept of magic schools – it helps the player to understand and classify the spells, and it gives more flavor to the game world, regarding to different casters being more or less specialized in different types of magic. However, the actual division of schools in 3.5 is what I dislike.
Assuming that D&D Next’s spell schools systems is equal to 3.5’s (which it seems to be), spell schools are defined as “a group of related spells that work in similar ways”. But it is unclear whether this similarity in the way spell works is related to the mechanics and benefits of a spell, or is related to the aspect/property of the spell.
An example: most spells of the Evocation schools are related to generating, controlling and unleashing energy. So, would the definition of Evocation be “spells that generate, control, and/or unleash energy”? If the answer to that question is yes, then spells like Fire Orb (Conjuration) and Shield (Abjuration) should belong to that school, since those spells fall into this definition. If the answer to that question is no, then another definition for Evocation should be found. If the definition is “spells that deal damage”, then some Necromancy spells (like Vampiric Touch) and Conjuration spells (the orbs) should be Evocation.
Following this logic, if the definition for Abjuration is “spells that protect”, then many Transmutation spells (and some Necromancy spells, like Death Ward) should fall into Abjuration.
I’m not sure if I’m being clear enough. My point is: the 3.5’s (and hopefully not 5th’s) spell division through schools seems arbitrary and illogical in many cases. Take this opportunity to rethink how the spells should be distributed in this next edition. I come with more than one suggestion.
Classify spells based on its aspects. Doing so, I suggest the following schools:
- Energy: spells that generates, controls, or unleashes energy and/or force. Those spells would be related to fire (independently if the caster is launching a fireball or using a spell to endure heat), cold, electricity, sonic, light (and darkness), raw energy (force), gravity, and such.
- Matter: spells that generates, controls, or modifies physical matter. Most of 3.5’s Transmutation spells would fall in this school. Those spells would be related to enhancing the body (as in Bull’s Strength) or inanimate objects (as in Animate Rope), becoming invisible, creating/improving weapons and armors, creating and controlling acid, water and earth, mechanical objects and structures, and such.
- Dimensions: spells that controls dimensions (space and time). These spells would be related to teleportation, summoning (bringing distant creatures nearby involves a sort of “teleportation&rdquo, sending messages throughout long distances, seeing/hearing at long distances (Divination-like spells), time traveling, traveling to other dimensions (Planes), communing with beings of other Planes (spells like Commune), and such.
- Mind: spells that controls thoughts and emotions. Basically, this would be 3.5’s Enchantment + Illusion schools. These spells would be related to charming, dominating, holding, controlling, deceiving, creating fake images / sounds, and such.
- Vitae: spells that controls, manipulates, or even generates vital force – in other words, controlling life and death. (Being that spells of fire and cold belong to the same category, I don’t think of spells of life and death belonging to the same schools as a problem). Those spells would be related to healing, removing sickness, killing, controlling undeads, creating undeads, communicating with deads, death wards, and such. (Basically, almost all Necromancy spells plus almost all Healing [and similar] spells).
In this school division, the same effect could be achieved by spells of different schools. For instance, if the caster wants to fly, he or she could either use a Matter spell to create wings and fly or use an Energy spell to control his or her gravity and fly. Also, I don’t think it would be a problem if a spell falls into two (or more!) schools (for instance, summoning a fire elemental could be both a Dimension and Energy spell).
Classify spells based on its mechanical effects. I personally don’t like this idea, but it would give a more clear division of schools than the used in 3.5. Doing so, each school would be related to a game effect – Damage, Movement, Interaction, Defense, etc. In this way, the Defense school (which could be named Abjuration) would contain every spell related to defense or protection – independently if the spell protects from undeads, elementals, physical strikes, or if the spell involves summoning a shield or creating an energy shield. Spells with the same effects would belong to the same school – as simple as that.
No matter what division is used (if either of the above suggestions, the 3.5 division, or some new one), I still suggest that “sub-schools” exists, for they may grant an additional level of specialization for the character. In this way, I can play a wizard specialized in fire spells (those being either from the Evocation (3.5), or from the Energy (my suggestion school) or summoning (whether those are Conjuration or Dimensional).
SPELL PRESENTATION. The way spells (or powers) are presented differs greatly from 3.5 to 4th edition. Each form of presentation possesses its advantages and disadvantages. In 3.5, spells were presented in more fluid way, so that the reader could feel the spell and imagine it as an aspect of the world rather than a game mechanic. In 4th, this feeling almost vanishes (many players complains that 4th feels like a computer game, and the power system has a play in this complaint), but it is much, MUCH easier to read and know what the spell do. Just reading a couple lines, the reader would know the spell’s targets, damage, area, and other effects.
My suggestion is: why don’t you do both?
Present a spell in the same way that 3.5 does. Then, afterwards, present the spell in the way that 4th does, summarizing the spell’s main topics for easy reading and annotation. One example: Burning Hands could be described like that.
BURNING HANDS 1st level Evocation
Area: 15 foot cone originating from you
Targets: Creatures in area
Damage: 2d4 + magical ability modifier fire damage. (Dexterity saving throw halves).
Other Effects: Ignites unattended flammable objects in the area.
Burning Hands is not the perfect example because the spell itself is of short description, but this summarizing can be really helpful in many cases.