Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 5:26 PM
Here are some examples to illustrate my concepts on spell design and upgrades.
All numbers are arbitrary (the keywords, too) -- I really haven't thought them through at all.
More details on learning, upgrading, and preparing spells are provided in my preceding post about a new spell system. Basically, every level after character creation, a spellcaster chooses to either learn a new spell or upgrade a spell they already know, and then prepares them using an allotment of universal spell slots.
Magic Missile (Level 1)
You launch an ephemeral, silver-blue bolt of force at an enemy.
Arcane (Evocation), At-Will * Force, Implement
Target: One creature
Attack: Int vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d4 + [Int] damage.
Special: This spell may be used as a ranged basic attack.
Level 3 [Upgrade] - Magic Missiles
You can launch missiles at several enemies at once.
(At Level 3) Target: Up to two creatures.
(At Level 5) Target: Up to three creatures.
(At Level 7) Target: Up to four creatures.
(At Level 9) Target: Up to five creatures.
Level 7 [Upgrade] - Seeker Missile
Your missiles strike unerringly no matter how your enemies try to dodge them.
Attack: Int +2 vs. Reflex
Level 9 - Improved Magic Missile
Your missiles hurtle forth with blinding speed, and slam into their targets with bone-crushing force.
Hit: 2d6 + [Int] damage.
Level 9 [Upgrade] - Missile of Impact
Your missiles deliver such impact on a hit that enemies are dazed momentarily.
Hit: 2d6 + [Int] damage, and the target is dazed until the end of your next turn.
Level 15 - Improved Magic Missile II
Your missiles devastate enemies and leave them broken and shattered.
Hit: 2d8 + [Int] damage.
Level 17 [Upgrade] - Seeker Missile II
Only the nimblest enemies have even the faintest hope of evading your missiles.
Prerequisite: Seeker Missile (Level 7)
Attack: Int +4 vs. Reflex
I didn't write Force-type damage in the Hit entry -- I tend to think there should be limit on the variety of type keywords. Force damage is much the same as bludgeoning damage anyway, so leave out the type and the spellcaster doesn't have to worry about yet another kind of resistance/immunity/vulnerability.
I did, however, write 'Force' in the keywords. Force spells are iconic and I do love them, so this allows for feats, class features, and other effects to modify them.
I'd like to make an important note here: anything marked (Upgrade) is optional. How optional? When you select a higher-level upgrade for a spell, you don't need to have taken all the lower-level upgrades for that particular spell, unless noted otherwise (as with Seeker Missile II).
Some spell upgrades are automatic (i.e. Improved Magic Missile) -- these don't have '(Upgrade)' written after the name. Besides helping to keep all spells attractive and useful as the spellcaster rises in level, it also allows the player to spend their upgrades on only the most exciting stuff.
The names of spell upgrades are meant to stack together, e.g. 'Improved Seeker Missiles of Impact '. Besides making the spell sound more awesome, this is a quick and intuitive way of recording down and declaring which upgrades you've selected for that spell. Of course, this can become a bit of a mouthful, so they're always free to use the original name of the spell.
Note how Missile of Impact uses the greater damage dice granted by Improved Magic Missile (which is automatically gained at the same level), which will then be replaced by the even better damage dice of Improved Magic Missile II.
I actually think the Magic Missiles upgrade I wrote for Level 3 will become over-powered as the upgrade improves with later levels, but I wrote it that way anyway to demonstrate a spell upgrade that improves with level, but only needs to be purchased once. Maybe Seeker Missiles would be a better fit -- you pay one Upgrade to improve your accuracy, and the values upgrade automatically as the levels go by, in order to stay competitive.
Oh, and I also put the power source (and school of magic) at the head of the Keywords line, you may have noticed. I think the 8+1 schools of magic are fun, if we can just maintain some intuitive sort of integrity between the schools (i.e. keep Mage Armour and Shield in Abjuration, keep elemental-energy spells in Evocation, put healing back in Necromancy...).
---- Elemental Burst
(Level 1) At your command, a burst of raw elemental power ravages a designated area.
Arcane (Evocation), At-Will * Cold/Fire/Lightning, Implement Standard Action Area
burst 1 within 10 squares Target:
Each creature in burst Attack:
Int vs. Reflex Hit:
1d6 + [Int] cold/fire/lightning damage. Special:
Each time, before casting this spell, the spellcaster chooses whether to deal cold, fire, or lightning damage with this spell. It is then cast as a spell of that type. Level 4 [Upgrade] - Controlled Elemental Burst Your improved control over the elemental forces allows you to avoid harming allies caught within the radius of this spell. Target:
Each enemy in burst Level 8 [Upgrade] - Massive Elemental Burst Harnessing ever greater power than before, the elemental power you unleash devastates wide swathes of the battlefield. Area
burst 2 within 15 squares. Level 10 - Improved Elemental Burst You learn to draw on more power at once, and cast this spell with greater intensity. Hit:
1d8 + [Int] cold/fire/lightning damage. Level 12 [Upgrade] - Multi-Elemental Burst Your mastery of the elemental forces allows you to draw on several elements at once. Special:
Each time, before casting this spell, the spellcaster chooses two of the following types: cold, fire, or lightning. The spell deals damage of both types, and is cast as a spell of those types. Level 14 - Improved Elemental Burst II All who dare stand against you are instantly wiped out by the fury of this spell. Hit:
1d10 + [Int] cold/fire/lightning damage. Level 14 [Upgrade] - Elemental Explosion The power of your spell knocks enemies off their feet. Hit:
1d10 + [Int] cold/fire/lightning damage, and the target is knocked prone.
It was noted that some people in 3e resented having to carry a 'golf bag' of weapons to deal with different types of Damage Reduction (/bludgeoning, /piercing, /slashing). My players dealt with this problem easily by pointing out that, for example, a sword could be used to bludgeon with the flat of its blade, and pierce with its point, allowing us to largely gloss over this inconvenience.
What about different elemental damage types in spells, then? Unlike a fighter sheathing his sword and drawing/'appropriating' a mace, a mage cannot swiftly change his Fireball to a Ball Lightning upon realizing that a different approach is required. There was the Elemental Substitution feat, but it only became available at a rather high level, and required the mage to jump through some hoops to use it. I'll just digress and say it's kind of unfair, hence this spell (obviously a modified version of Scorching Burst).
What about special effects for each elemental type? I could have written a more complex spell, so that if the spellcaster chooses Cold damage the targets will also be Slowed, while Lightning damage will make their hair stand on end. At the moment however, I've elected to leave the special effects to other, more specific spells, and let the strength of this spell be in its versatility.
I only used three elements in this spell (cold/fire/lightning), for elegance or something -- you can stuff more in there if you like. I briefly considered leaving Acid for Primal magic (druids) and Radiant for Divine magic (clerics), but I don't think that sort of segregation is necessary to maintain a unique flavour for each class. As for Thunder, just fold it into Force. Also, in case I don't put a damaging Illusion in this post, I'd also like to get rid of Psychic-type damage, because a specialist Illusionist is just going to get screwed if they meet an enemy with that kind of resistance/immunity. Is that an unusual situation for them to adapt to, or is that punishing them for a character choice? I think Illusionists already get plenty of the former, and in any case you can always challenge them with high-Will enemies.
So what does this mean for weapons enchanted to deal a certain type of elemental damage? I wouldn't mind more options here too, but remember that the weapons also deal base non-elemental damage (and still have an enchantment bonus, if that makes it into 5e). It's somewhat different from spells, where the usually the entirety of the damage is pure elemental energy.
---- Ray of Frost
(Level 1) You cast this spell at an enemy, and a trail of frost forms in the air at its passing. Arcane (Evocation), At-Will * Cold, Implement Standard Action Ranged
One creature Attack:
Int vs. Fortitude Hit:
1d6 + [Int] cold damage, and the target is slowed until the end of your next turn.
Level 6 [Upgrade] - Ray of Endless Winter Enemies hit by this spell struggle desperately to shake off the lingering chill. Hit:
1d6 + [Int] cold damage, and the target is slowed (save ends). Level 7 - Improved Ray of FrostBarely a scream escapes your enemies as they are flash-frozen into statues, to await the cold embrace of a never-ending slumber. Hit:
1d10 + [Int] cold damage.
Level 9 [Upgrade] - Grasp of Endless Winter
The cold bites deep into flesh and bone, freezing enemies in place.
Prequisite: Ray of Endless Winter (Level 6)
Hit: 1d6 + [Int] cold damage, and the target is slowed (save ends). On the first failed saving throw, target is immobilized (save ends).
I love the 'first failed saving throw' mechanic introduced with 4e Sleep, which I thought was an elegant way of illustrating a gradual onset effect, and gave the victims more of a fighting chance. Alternatively, Grasp of Endless Winter could just inflict Immobilize (save ends) right away. It's not a lot of difference from Slow.
Note that Grasp of Endless Winter also has a prerequisite spell upgrade. I also write the level at which the required upgrade was made available, for easier reference.
(Level 5)You hurl a ball of magical fire at your enemies, which explodes on impact and throws fire and destruction all around.
Arcane (Evocation), Daily * Fire, Implement
burst 3 within 20 squaresTarget:
Each creature in the burstAttack:
Intelligence vs. ReflexHit:
4d6 + [Int] fire damage.Miss:
Level 6 [Upgrade] - Liquid Fire
The fireball's explosion throws a shower of liquid fire, which clings to its targets and continues to burn.
In addition to the normal damage taken, all targets within the area of effect also take ongoing [Int] fire damage (save ends).Level 8 [Upgrade] - InfernoSummoning more power with each casting, you cause the flames of this spell to spread even further, claiming ever more
burst 5 within 20 squaresLevel 8 [Upgrade] - Perdition
The fires you cast linger on the battlefield in a widespread pyre that continues to burn long after the initial victims have fallen.
Fireball gains the Zone
Until the start of your next turn, any creature entering the spell's area or starting its turn there takes [Int] fire damage.
If the spellcaster has taken the Liquid Fire
upgrade, the affected creature will also suffer ongoing [Int] fire damage (save ends).Level 12 [Upgrade] - Fireball (Encounter)Having gained more mastery over elemental fire, you can now draw on its power more often.
Fireball becomes an Encounter
Level 14 - Hellfire
The unnatural fire you invoke seems to have a life of its own, consuming its victims with a ravenous hunger.
6d6 + [Int] fire damage.
Here is the classic Fireball as an example of a higher-level spell (in this case, it becomes available at Level 5, which is nice and traditional). I have no opinions on the values for damage or area, other than to point out once again that with Daily spells being on the same level as At-Will spells, there is less need to make them superior in every single way.
Obviously there won't be any spell upgrades for 5th level or lower. With my example progression though, you can start upgrading this spell right from the next level, if you really dig this new spell you've acquired and can't wait to trick it out.
Notice how two optional upgrades become available at Level 8. I know in my previous post I strongly advocated 'batch presentation' of spells every few levels (as opposed to releasing a few spells every level), but where spell upgrades are concerned, I don't think it's really important whether or not they are released by the batch. It does present an intriguing set of choices though: first, which upgrade will you choose for Fireball at Level 8? Afterwards, will you still come back and get the upgrade you missed? (you totally can, if you want to)
You probably noticed how at Level 12, you can transform Fireball from a Daily to an Encounter spell. To help reflect this change within a single spell (as opposed to picking up Fire Burst at Level 7 in 4e), I propose the use of symbols to represent the frequency at which a spell may be cast (alongside keywords and colours) -- it might also be useful for the colour blind, not that I would know. For the sake of a complete proposal, I might suggest the symbol of infinity for At-Will powers, a short sweep of a clock's minute hand (5 minutes) for Encounter powers, and a moon/sun sorta thing for Daily powers.
You might not want to upgrade Fireball's damage if it can be made into an Encounter spell and then (in my universal spell slot system) prepared multiple times, though. Another advantage of making it into an Encounter spell, by the way, is allowing it to be swapped in and out during a Short Rest.
(Level 5)With a deafening thundercrack, a bolt of brilliant blue lightning strikes your target.Arcane (Evocation, Daily * Implement, Lightning
Intelligence vs. Reflex
4d8 + [Int] lightning damage.
Level 6 [Upgrade] - Arc Lightning
The crackling lightning lashes out at multiple enemies on its way to the ultimate target.
You may choose up to four other creatures to receive [Int] lightning damage, if their spaces are touched by any line of effect drawn from one specific square of the caster's space to one specific square of the target's space.Level 6 [Upgrade] - Paralyze
Electricity courses through the bodies of your targets, causing them to convulse helplessly.
Any creature which takes damage from this spell is also stunned until the end of your next turn.Level 9 - Intensity IA blinding stroke of lightning sears through flesh and bone alike.Hit:
4d10 + [Int] lightning damage.Level 12 [Upgrade] - Chain LightningAfter striking the initial target, stray arcs of lightning streak outwards in search of additional victims.
On a successful hit to the primary target of this spell, you may make this secondary attack:Secondary Target:
Up to two other creatures within 10 squares of the primary target.Secondary Attack:
Intelligence vs. ReflexHit:
Half of the damage dealt to the primary target.Level 14 - Intensity IIA blinding flash of lightning, and all that is left is ash and dust.Hit:
6d8 + [Int] lightning damage.
Lightning is my favourite element -- in my mind it represents precise, focused high damage. Before 4e pushed single-target damage to Strikers and asked Controllers to specialize in area-effects, I thought of a good offensive spell selection as complementing high-damage single-target spells with moderate-damage area-effect spells. I'm just going to come right out and say I don't like how Class Roles got in the way of class versatility, although I greatly appreciate the contributions to the Defender and Leader classes -- I think the 'tanks', for example, had a much harder time forcing enemies to focus on them in 3e.
I don't expect the Chain Lightning effect to be overpowered or terribly complicated. There should probably be a note about how Effect entries across multiple spell upgrades are cumulative, unless otherwise noted.
If you're interested, here's an overview of how my proposed damage values for Fireball and Lightning Bolt compare across the levels. Yeah they're still arbitrary to the overall maths of the game, though. Remember that Fireball does this damage to all its targets, and more with upgrades; Lightning Bolt only does all this damage to the primary target of the spell. In other words, Lightning Bolt should be awesome enough to be worth a single-target spell, but not to the point that spamming it will break the game (though this is a complicated subject).Level 5
Lightning: 4d8 = Average 16, Max 32Level 9
Lightning: 4d10 = Average 20, Max 40Level 14
Fireball: 6d6 = Average 18, Max 36
Lightning: 6d8 = Average 24, Max 48
You probably think the Level 9 damage upgrade is a little out of place. Truth be told, I wanted to upgrade Fireball's damage through 4d6 and 5d6 as well, but I got lazy.
(Level 5)With a whispered word and a subtle gesture, you allow someone to vanish from sight.Arcane (Illusion), DailyStandard ActionRanged
You or one creatureEffect:
The target is invisible until the end of your next turn. If the target attacks, the effect ends immediately.Sustain Standard:
If the target is within range, you can sustain the effect.Level 6 [Upgrade] - Combat InvisibilityLike a ghost, you strike and then fade away, completely unseen.Effect:
The target is invisible until the end of your next turn. If the target attacks, the effect ends at the end of that turn.Level 8 [Upgrade] - Mass InvisibilityYou can now hide a small army from sight, and yourself along with them.Target:
You and/or up to four other creatures of your choice within range.Level 10 - Improved InvisibilityExhaustive practice and familiarity with this classic illusion spell allows you to do more with it.Ranged
Any targets of this spell can Sustain the effect on themselves by spending an action on the spellcaster's behalf, and they neither need to stay within range of, nor maintain line of effect to the spellcaster in order to do so. Attacking will still end the effect as normal.Level 12 [Upgrade] - Extended InvisbilityYou have mastered this complicated spell, and can maintain it almost effortlessly.Sustain Minor:
You can sustain this spell for up to 20 minutes.
No comment, other than to make a disclaimer about how the levels stated are also largely arbitrary.
Oh wait, yeah I also want to comment about how much I enjoyed reading about different types of Illusions back in 3.5 (figments, glamers, phantasms, shadows...), which gave the DM hints about how to handle various situations involving specific illusions. That was immersion, man.
I didn't actually write the specific class of Illusion (it's a glamer iirc) in the Keywords line though ... I think it's a bit of flavour that should be hidden away in the background behind the rules, tucked away in the juicy flavour bits of the core rulebooks. Or maybe, in the end, it'll just be something from a previous edition for us to think back on, in nostalgia.
(Level 1)You seem to take only a single step, but you vanish and reappear much further away.Arcane (Conjuration), Encounter * Teleport
Teleport 2 squares. You can't take other creatures with you.Level 4 [Upgrade] - Blink AwayIn response to sudden danger, you instantly cast this spell and escape.
At any time, you may choose to cast this spell as an Immediate Interrupt
instead, in response to the following condition:Trigger:
An enemy moves to a square adjacent to you, or you are hit by an attack.Level 9 - Improved Blink StepConditioned against the ravages of teleportation, you can make greater leaps.Effect:
Teleport 5 squares. You can't take other creatures with you.Level 9 [Upgrade] - Dimension DoorAfter intensive training and dedication, you are now able to travel great distances with a single casting of this spell.Effect:
Teleport 10 squares. You can't take other creatures with you.Level 12 [Upgrade] - Spirit AwayAs a seasoned traveller of immaterial pathways, you can confidently bring a passenger along for the journey.
You can now take other creatures with you when travelling with this spell.Target:
You and up to one willing ally.
Hey look, it's a watered-down Dimension Door at Level 1. Another thing I really love is teleportation, and I'd love to get it at Level 1 (as the Eladrins do) -- that and turning ethereal, like 3.5 Ninjas.
No, I don't really believe that every single spell must have automatic upgrades (Improved Blink Step, in this case), but I thought it would be fun to use it this way ... although honestly I'd rather give out Improved Blink Step at Level 5.
Notice how I combined Dimension Door with Wizard's Escape. Spell slots are limited as it is, so I prefer to consolidate these little things.
(Level 1)The wind roars in your ears, deafening and terrifying, but you make it safely to the ground, unharmed.Arcane (Transmutation), Encounter
You or one creature in range falls.Target:
You or that creature.Effect:
Until the end of the current turn, the target takes no damage from falling, and does not fall prone at the end of the fall. Special:
This spell may be spontaneously cast in place of a prepared Fly spell.
Level 2 - Mass Feather FallWith a hurried gesture and a few quick words, you save your whole party from a fatal fall.Target:
You and/or up to four other creatures.
First off, Mass Feather Fall is hilarious and awesome, and allows for some of the most memorable and spectacular strategies at early-level play, particularly escapes -- and what sort of hero escapes alone? The party that leaps off a towering castle parapet together, laughs about it in the tavern together.
Why did I rewrite the Effect wording to say 'until the end of the current turn'? Well, in order to alllow more awesome stunts, i.e. a series of short jumps off a high and complicated obstacle. Or, in the case of an ogre throwing you straight up, catching you, and then spending an action point to do it again. You just get more use out of it this way, especially since it used to be a Daily spell.
I was originally going to create an ambitious hybrid of Fly, Jump, and Feather Fall, but due to the vast disparities between spell descriptions, instead you'll notice the Special entry at the top, where I suggested that a prepared Fly spell could be spontaneously replaced with this spell. For this, the Feather Fall spell (Mass Feather Fall by that level) has to be a currently Known Spell for the spellcaster. Yes, Fly also allows one to land safely, but besides not being a Free Action to cast (a relatively trivial concern), its Mass version only becomes available many levels later. Thus, the mage is forced to decide between a single-target Fly or a Feather Fall for the party -- not a happy choice to make.
Notice also that I made it an Encounter spell (as opposed to the usual Daily). Using my proposed system, there are a lot of utilities that ought to be made into Encounter spells, so they can be prepared in the field in a hurry. That goes for Fly, too. Of course, I must admit that in many situations where I imagine someone suddenly realizing the need for Feather Fall or Fly, you either don't have 5 minutes, or you can spare 6 hours. But it's just more fun and more useful to make them Encounter powers, and is it really unbalancing or game-breaking? Back in 3e we could cast Mount for a temporary horse, or go buy a real one; at whatever level we get Fly (depending on edition), we could just as well get our hands on a flying mount, too.
Sorry it took me so long to put up the next post. I was halfway through and then I had to spend a busy week helping out with some school event. Now I'm entertaining this nymph I picked up, and she keeps going on about showing her the 'darker side of man'. I don't know -- from her point of view, is she asking to see a furniture shop, or a restaurant?
Monday, May 7, 2012, 4:10 AM
Here is a proposed system for spell preparation in D&D Next (5e), combining the Vancian system of previous editions with the Powers formats of D&D 4.
- Restore the most versatile elements of the Vancian spell system: being able to prepare the same spell multiple times; the freedom to choose any combination of combat, protection, and 'utility' spells.
- Preserve the strengths of 4e Powers: most importantly At-Will and Encounter spells; similarity with general combat mechanics (as opposed to fiddling around with Saving Throws and Spell Resistance); simple and smart innovations such as Sustain and Start/End of Next Turn durations; quick and clear descriptions.
- Improve mage's (Wizard's) ability to adapt on the fly, in the field, without having to set camp and bed down for the night.
- Eliminate feelings of 'spell exhaustion': when the choices available at some levels seem boring and uninteresting; when many spells just feel like the same thing; when lower-level spells become obsolete and largely abandoned later on.
- Find a balance between providing lots of options and resources to players at the low levels, while not smothering them with too much at the high levels.
[Proposed Rules] Combining the Vancian and Powers-based spell systems
Universal Spell Slots
- Spellcasters will have a number of generic, undifferentiated spell slots with which they prepare spells from a list of Known Spells. The spells themselves may be either At-Will, Encounter, or Daily -- each spell slot may accommodate any type of spell, of any level.
- Preparing the same spell multiple times (using multiple spell slots) allows for repeated castings (e.g. if Fly is a Daily spell, preparing it in two spell slots allows it to be cast twice a day).
- Players select their Known Spells from an initial list of options at character creation.
- Each time the spellcaster gains a level thereafter, they may choose to either make a single upgrade to one known spell, or learn a new spell.
- The spellcaster may never have more than a maximum number of known spells (spell upgrades don't count as separate spells).
- Once the maximum number of known spells has been reached, any new spells learned must replace an existing known spell.
- Upgrades on spells may be freely re-distributed when levelling up, or exchanged for new spells. Known spells may similarly be exchanged for other spells or spell upgrades.
- Every few levels, they gain access to new lists of increasingly powerful spells, which they may also freely choose from.
(the numbers are balanced between versatility and simplicity, but in the end they're just suggestions I forced myself to work out in order to present a more complete concept in my proposal)
5 spell slots at 1st level, +1 spell slot every '3rd' level (3, 6, 9, 13, 16, 19, etc.)
= 8 spell slots by Level 10, 11 spell slots by Level 20
5 + [ability bonus] spells known at 1st Level.
Maximum Known Spells = 10 + [ability bonus] spells.
Level 5 is when I suggest for a new list of spells to be attained, and every 5th level after that (10, 15, 20, etc.).
Changing Prepared Spells
- Whenever the spellcaster takes a Short Rest (5 minutes), they may replace any At-Will / Encounter spells they have prepared with any other At-Will / Encounter spells in their list of known spells. Encounter spells may also be replaced with At-Will spells and vice versa.
- Daily spells which have been prepared may not be replaced (with any type of spell) except through an Extended Rest (6 hours), whether or not the prepared Daily spell has been expended.
Before I proceed, I'd like to take a moment to point out another feature which I perceive as an improvement over 4e. In 4th edition, the powers were strictly pigeon-holed across a whopping 30 levels. This reduced your breadth of choice at each level, and also created expectations of subtle differences between the levels. I'm electing instead for a big batch of spells to be unlocked at wide intervals, from which the player will make selections over the next few levels. This 'batch selection' method is very similar to the 9 spell levels from before 4e (plus cantrips/orisons in 3e, sure), and much like how it was done in those days, lower-level spells should not be designed to be eventually thrown away and discarded. I aim for a spell design strategy which will prevent lower-level spells from becoming obsolete and frivolous, and instead keep them attractive and useful even into the higher levels. I'll try to explain a bit here, and more in a future post about Spell Design and Spell Upgrades.
While retaining the simple Power-card format of 4e, I'd also like a majority of the spells to improve with the spellcaster's level, and not just in terms of half-level and ability bonuses. If I were to speak on the rulebook layout, I envision each spell having a little section all to itself, beginning with the spell name and a helpful description (such as was introduced in the Essentials books), then the basic initial-level power card for the spell, which is then followed by separate entries (separate from the actual power card itself) detailing each character level at which the spell may be upgraded, with a corresponding new clause or edit that may be introduced or substituted into the initial power card.
By way of example of a spell upgrade, at character creation, suppose a mage chooses to learn Magic Missile (among other spells). At 1st level, this spell is a single-target ranged attack. At 3rd level, an upgrade to the spell will become available to the player (e.g. up to two targets per casting). However, in order to gain the upgrade to this particular spell, they will have to forego learning a new spell at that level. What I'm telling you is that spells don't simply attain all upgrades automatically with level -- instead, as players gain levels, they may not only amass a growing array of spells, they may also opt to upgrade the spells in accordance to their increasing level. Every time, it will be a choice between either a specific spell upgrade or an entirely new spell.
A new list of powerful spells is unlocked every 5 levels, although lower-level spells should remain valuable, especially when upgraded. What are these new, powerful spells, then? The new spells basically represent options that weren't presented at lower levels (such as Invisibility or Dimension Door), or that don't make sense as upgrades (Scorching Burst has its value as a low-yield At-Will aoe, and Fireball has its value as a high-yield Daily aoe -- the spellcaster may not want to transform their at-will Scorching Burst into a daily Fireball at 5th-level, so this new higher-level spell list gives them the option to either replace one with the other or just get both).
I'm still considering whether the free redistribution and exchange of spell upgrades and spells known will break the game, but it becomes necessary when trading-in upgraded spells, so at the moment I'm happy to think of it as more freedom in spell selection, and anyway a DM can easily modify the rule if they feel strongly enough about it. You could even go so far as to allow players to freely change their known spells and upgrades outside of combat (and not just during level-up), much like modifying spellbooks in 3e. Alternatively, the rate could be reduced to one move at a time, as in 4e Retraining, and if the DM prefers they can ignore that instead.
Will allowing the preparation of any number of Daily spells lead to power imbalance?
Probably -- it'll largely depend on spell design. The case may be made that perhaps the spell slots should not be so universal -- perhaps they should be differentiated by type: At-Will, Encounter, and Daily spell slots. Otherwise, if a spellcaster were to prepare nothing but Daily spells, for example, they might too easily overwhelm a certain few encounters, and meanwhile have no way of contributing substantially at other times -- that is, if we are speaking purely about combat situations. You can write in some advice to players to have some At-Will spells prepared, but that doesn't fully solve the problem.
I thought it was a big drawback how, in 4e, you couldn't choose to prepare several copies of a useful spell, because they all had to be unique instances. Besides each spell being a one-shot affair, Daily spells were also gained later (at higher levels, say, in a Paragon Path), so it felt like there was also some pressure on the game designers to make them more effective in a variety of ways (high damage coupled with substantial effects). One of the goals of my proposed system is to put the different spell types on the same level, so that all things being equal, a spell will be made Encounter or Daily to balance out its greater effect/potency in comparison with other spells. This is in contrast to how I feel it was done in 4e, where most Daily spells had to be superior overall, rather than just being different.
Yeah that sounded kinda muddled to me too. At the end of the day (pun not intended), Daily spells are Daily for a reason, and spamming them may simply be a choice of strategy, or it may be game-breaking. With a subtly different approach to spell design, I'm hoping to push things towards the former situation.
Anyway, rather than enforcing a certain ratio of At-Will : Encounter : Daily spells, I propose that a spell should be jointly defined by its details as well as its type, and then it'll be left to the player to decide how to spend their limited number of spell slots. If necessary, perhaps you can set a limit on how many Daily spells a player may have prepared (half their ability bonus?), while still using universal spell slots.
Perhaps the player wishes to prepare a combination of powerful utility spells (such as Fly or Invisibility) for the whole party to surmount some great obstacle, or perhaps they are preparing some strange cocktail of spells as part of an elaborate and unorthodox strategy the players have cooked up -- enacting unusual hare-brained plans is some of the greatest fun to be had in D&D, and a big reason why people play it. Perhaps the campaign (or the player) puts more of an emphasis on matters outside of combat, and they don't need so many At-Will combat spells (seems like most non-combat At-Will spells are cantrips). Perhaps the party and DM have no problem with the way the spellcaster nukes so hardcore. Perhaps the player multi-classed into a spellcaster class just to have a few specific spells prepared. (I'll put forth my ideas on multi-classing in a future post.)
Whichever the case, all these character concepts and strategies are threatened by an enforced ratio of spell types. Looking at all the benefits gained from greater freedom in spell preparation, I would rather risk spamming (you may even say I designed for it), and let the players and DM sort it out amongst themselves.
Does this make it too easy for spellcasters to change their prepared spells?
Personally I don't see any problem with changing your prepared spells over a Short Rest, Daily spells notwithstanding. You can go on about how the Wizard has such great flexibility and adaptability because they have so many spells in their spellbook, but the truth is that you often can't divine that far ahead to see what you'll really need to prepare (and it's a lot of spoilers for the DM's carefully prepared story anyway). Even when you have the opportunity to adapt (such as when considering a castle you would like to lay siege to), you'll still want to change your spells quickly, not after 6 hours of sleep. Between preparing by way of a Short Rest or an Extended one, the one not involving unconsciousness is somewhat more suspenseful and heroic.
By way of precedent, in 3.5 you could leave spell slots empty, and prepare spells in the field over a period of at least 10 minutes. Leaving spell slots blank is boring and lame, so I advocate free replacement of At-Will and Encounter spells, which are fully recharged during a Short Rest anyway. 5 minutes of outside-combat rest seems like an acceptable buffer between your handful of prepared spells and your larger library of known spells. What harm can come of it?
Ability bonus shouldn't have much effect here, and rightly so. It had a negligible effect in 3.5 (although each spell slot was really precious so maybe not negligible), and absolutely no effect in 4e (you can't get more powers from a high ability score). Fewer spell slots would be a terrible price to pay in exchange for not going with a fully optimized build, especially when the base spell slot allotment may be reduced to mitigate the increased power of optimized builds.
Why start with as many as 5 slots? Well, can a 1st-level fighter wear armour, fight in melee, and also at range? Meanwhile, can a 1st-level wizard in 3e or 4e use magic to shield themselves while throwing out a variety of single-target and aoe spells, even if they sacrificed the useful utility spells they supposedly traded combat superiority for? The answer is no: in 3e you got two 1st-level spells (ignoring cantrips), which serves two functions at most (I named at least four); in 4e you started with a good array of pure combat spells, but only at Level 2 could you choose either a combat defence or one useful trick (supposedly the Spellbook feature makes this two selections).
This is no longer a choice of a particular style (e.g. Illusionist) or strategy (e.g. full combat load-out) -- the basic functions themselves are incomplete and insufficient. What would a fighter say if you asked them to choose between either armour or a sword? They would demand both, and a crossbow, too. Why should mages have less -- because they traded combat for utility? They don't even have that.
5 slots to start with allows the spellcaster to choose between a broad and comprehensive approach to combat (defensive/mobility spells, at-will ranged/aoe spells, encounter/daily nukes) or, more importantly, a balance between combat and 'utility' spells, so they can still fight moderately well while toting around a Charm Person or Silent Image spell. Of course, the faster method for changing prepared spells already provides a lot of flexibility in the field, although it's not quite the same as having more spells prepared at any time, and is further restricted by the number of Daily spells prepared (which remain set until the next Extended Rest).
Starting with a lot of power and options is fun. The sum total (as the character gains levels) has to be controlled, of course -- that whole Sweet Spot ideal -- so the end total can't be too high. Even so, it's nice to shift more of the stuff towards the earlier levels (or all the way to character creation). It's a lot like why players start with so much hp nowadays ... it just lets them see more, do more, and enjoy themselves more.
More spell slots are gained as the spellcaster levels up, to give them a sense of increasing power and capacity, and also to make better use of their corresponding increases in Spells Known. There must be a limit though, for the sake of simplicity. Why is 'simplicity' important? Because when the player has too many options in the field, they will spend a lot of time shuffling through them and trying to figure things out, which will probably slow down the game -- they will worry about how to make the best use of all the spells they have prepared, wondering if they're missing the ideal moment to use any particular one of them, and cycling through all the various combinations and strategies they had thought of when they chose this set of spells -- and then if they decide later that they made a crucial mistake or missed a rare opportunity, they'll howl with regret and face future games with even more anxiety. How much are they (and their party members) still enjoying the game?
Basically, simplicity helps keep the game fast and fun. To put it more succinctly, there's a balance to be maintained when it comes to character options: too few, and the character feels shallow and dull; too many, and the player becomes paralyzed with indecision.
Then again, in D&D 3.5 you could have around two dozen spell slots by Level 10, and three dozen spell slots by Level 20. But then we didn't have At-Will or Encounter spells back then so there was a lot of repetition -- not that my proposed system doesn't bear some repetition along a similar vein. At present my proposed numbers will bring it up to 8 spell slots at Level 10, and 11 by Level 20 -- not much more than a full hand of cards in Magic: The Gathering.
It really sucks to level up and only get to raise a few numbers here and there, by one point -- a situation non-casters from 3e might be well-acquainted with. Every level, there should be something interesting to gain or, even better, to choose -- and so the spellcaster consistently chooses a new spell or spell upgrade every level.
You start with 5 + [ability bonus] spells known, a similar formula to 1st-level spells known when creating a Wizard in 3.5 -- I like rewarding high ability scores now and again. I wanted to give players a large number of options to start with, which you can see amounts to around 8 spells known at Level 1 -- enough to go on a satisfying shopping spree for spells both essential and situational, that I aim to design so that they will last the player a long time. It's not far from the maximum known spells total, but I like to think that means the player never started very far from the Sweet Spot.
As I once told one of my players when he asked to replace Summon Nature's Ally I with Summon Wolfpack (three wolves), versatility is not an equal trade-off for power. A player can be given more options without much worry because there's a limit to how many actions they can take each turn anyway (or, in this case, a limited number of spell slots), but giving them the ability to do more (like summon more) in the same amount of time can easily disrupt the game. I hope the numbers I've written have yet to reach the paralyzing threshold of versatility, though -- they might.
Now, the number of Spell Slots should be held to a strict quota, because it represents power as well as versatility; the number of Spells Known, on the other hand, can tolerate some variance, because (after a certain minimum) it is purely extra versatility. Once they reach the set maximum total of known spells, they can still continue to shop around for spells every level, but in exchange for new spells they have to trade something in, keeping the sum total under control to avoid over-burdening the player.
Why choose Known Spells at all? Why not just let the player draw from all available spells ever published? Of course there is the same problem of keeping things simple and speeding things up -- just as how too many spell slots may slow down combat, too many spells known may create extended pauses at every rest, as the spellcaster tries to decide which spells to prepare. Also, making choices is fun -- there's a lot of pleasure (and regret) in shopping for a selection of spells with which to trick out your spellcaster and make them distinct.
Why start with a base number of 5? Mainly because it would be lame to know less spells than you have spell slots (and the ability bonus gives you a pleasant excess). Of course, with the option to upgrade spells instead of learning new ones, and spell slots increasing steadily meanwhile ... I suppose I won't worry about it past 1st Level, but with the numbers I've written I expect there should always be a small surplus of known spells which will form a sort of 'sideboard' of active-use spells, with Rituals taking care of the rest. Again, not forgetting that a spell (besides At-Will spells) may be prepared multiple times.
Spellbooks as a class feature
This is more of an aside, but fascinating though it was to compile and maintain an exotic and costly book of spells, as well as keep track of how many of its pages your known spells were using up, it was also terribly tedious and limiting, not to mention trivialized by a Blessed Book with ten thousand pages. Also, the heartbreak and inconvenience of losing your spellbook is something I'd rather leave behind as a story from a more draconian age in the past.
It would be nice for wizard spellbooks, iconic though they be, to be relegated to an optional bit of flavour. If the Arcane classes are going to be consolidated (they might be, from what I've read), and great freedom given to players to pursue the character concept they desire, then there will definitely be no small amount of players who would rather forego the spellbook and claim their magic is all innate and spontaneous. A DM so inclined may still create a plot twist or story hook where a PC's spellbook is lost or stolen, and their magic inhibited until then. No complicated rules need to be written about the matter -- just make the suggestion somewhere.
Ritual books are, of course, another matter entirely.
Giving all classes the same amount of starting gold (as was done in 4e), and then removing a spellbook from the equation means that mages will have a lot more starting gold to throw around than, say, a Fighter (with all their weapons and armour to buy and whatnot). Besides writing even more enticing low-level Rituals, I would suggest flooding the market with cheap little magic charms (although, since Wizards have cantrips, maybe other classes might appreciate cheap magic more), consumables like potions and grenades, or ... well, if Full Plate can go from 1500 gp to 50 gp, why not magic robes and staves?
How does this system stand up to multi-classing?
I don't know that much, of course, about how 5e is going to handle feats, levelling up, multi-classing, and so on. I have some ideas about that 'modular' system I've been hearing about though, and I've more or less figured out how my spell system will fit in there.
When the player multi-classes into any spellcaster class, they will get a number of Spell Slots based on their overall Character Level, and not their specific Class Levels. This is a total allotment with which they will prepare all the spells they know (whether Arcane, Divine, Primal, etc.). In other words, if a Level 6 'pure' Mage would have 7 Spell Slots, so would a Level 6 Mage/Cleric/Druid (and neither 15 nor 18 Spell Slots, no) -- as long as you belong to even a single spellcaster class, you get an allotment of spell slots based on your Character Level, which you must ration out amongst your various magical disciplines.
Another important balancing effect is exerted by the Spell Learning/Upgrading system. As the levels go by, most spells will upgrade themselves automatically and for free, so that even if you decide to dabble in magic just a bit (or a bit later), the spells will still be useful and appealing. For a spell to truly reach its ultimate potential however, its upgrades must be purchased, and these should somehow compete for the player's attention alongside the Class Features for other classes -- so that a multi-classed spellcaster will not truly be as powerful as a full spellcaster.
Merits and Drawbacks of Existing Systems
- I really love At-Will spells, and Encounter spells which take a 5-minute Short Rest to recharge. I have read convincing arguments about doing away with Daily spells entirely, but perhaps it still has a role to play in creating a broader spectrum with which to define just how powerful a particular spell can be, and limiting the power of magic in general. I also love how the Cantrips were consolidated and simplified in 4th edition.
- I love the simple, intuitive and versatile format in which Power cards are written. A short tutorial is required to explain to new players how Powers are read, but it's worth it.
- I also love Rituals, though perhaps they shouldn't have all been jumbled together into one universal list, with no regard to differences in class and flavour. Also, although this is a trivial detail, does the minimum cast time really have to be 10 minutes? You could give Tenser's Floating Disc a 1-minute cast and it would still be a non-combat spell. I suppose the question is how long the incantation is imagined to take, and whether the character will always have 10 minutes to hang around, such as when they need the Disc as a mobile stretcher to transport someone who's been badly wounded.
- It was when I learned about the rigid universal schedule for acquiring Powers, which were strictly segregated by type (At-Will, Encounter, Daily) and also by whether they were 'Attack' or 'Utility' spells -- that was when I suddenly felt a twang of nostalgia for the Vancian system of 3.5, when I could elect to assign to a spell slot either Mage Armour, Silent Image or Charm Person, giving me a flexible and imaginative toolset. Despite so many long-awaited improvements in 4th edition, the structure of character advancement had made it, in some ways, less interesting than 3.5. Not for the Fighters and Rogues, of course, but somehow they're still complaining.
Wow that balor I summoned has just been carrying on. Ask it a question and it decides to be the strong, silent type; leave it alone and suddenly it's War and Peace. Oh I think it's been scratching on the magic circle -- I gotta go.