View Full Version : A New Breed of Spellcasting

2011-08-23, 09:41 PM
For a long time, I have considered the spell per day system a little weak, and certainly a little unjust. Consider the poor 1st level wizard. With a little luck, he might be able to cast two magic missiles in a day, dealing a whopping 2d4+2 damage. He might be lucky enough to fell a single orc. It was with that thought in mind that I set out to redesign the entire magic system in D&D 3.5 so that magic was a little more powerful, certainly more usable. To do so, I enlisted the help of countless other games like it with a system using Spell Points (hereafter referred to as SP). I had to redesign a considerable amount of the game, and I'm sure I have not yet gotten it right. There is much I have yet to touch on, and much more that will need to be re-worked in the future. For this, I call upon you, noble system evaluators, to ruthlessly attack and critique the system I have designed.

A disclaimer: I warn you that this particular system does result in some overpowered uses of magic, and is designed for use in a magic-dominated campaign. The campaign information, cosmology mostly, is included at the end of the post here.

The Basics:
I always consider it best to start here, so let's be off, shall we?
Spellcasters, arcane and divine both, cast spells by expending SP. The Sp cost is based on the level of the spell, and follows the formula of Spell Level *1.5+1 (rounded down)
For those of you who do not wish to do the math, I've summarized that below:
0: 1 SP
1: 2 SP
2: 4 SP
3: 5 SP
4: 7 SP
5: 8 SP
6: 10 SP
7: 11 SP
8: 13 SP
9: 14 SP

Spell Points are given each level, as determined by your class, modified by your spell-casting ability score. I have tailored most of the classes to fit ratios similar to this, though there is certainly classes not shown here
d4: rangers, paladins and the like (starting on the level they begin to gain spells)
d6: bards
d8: wizards
d10: clerics and druids
d12: sorcerers

You probably have noted the similarity to HD, and you're not far off. At first level, the caster gains SP equal to the maximum possible on the die roll, modified by their relevant modifier as per HP. So a Wizard with 15 intelligence would have 10 SP at level 1, and a sorcerer with 15 charisma would have 14.

Spellcasters are now all spontaneous casters. Spells known are drawn from the spells per day list + 2, unless a class already has a spells known list, in which case that takes precedence (I am looking for an alternative to this, as it seems to gimp sorcerers quite a bit. So a level 1 wizard will know 3 spells. Clerics will automatically know all granted domain spells without it counting towards their maximum spells known. This was adjudicated when I found clerics especially require a versatile spell list.

Spells can be swapped out at a character's leisure. Changing a spell on the spells known list requires a special sacrifice though. For divine casters, this requires an hour of prayer and costs them spell level to be swapped out^2 *5 xp. This again is meant to compensate for the versatility demanded by healing-centred classes. As well, I have recently allowed clerics a reserve spell list. This is a list of spells not currently in their spells known list, but which do not require an experience loss to change into their spell-list. The reserve spell list is equal to the size of the spells known list. So a 1st level cleric would know 3 spells and spells from his domain, and have 3 spells on his reserve list.

Wizards can swap out spells as well, but they must be in his spellbook. This requires an hour of careful study and an xp loss equal to the spell level ^2*10.

This system allows casters to use a greater quantity of spells in a campaign which necessitates it and also requires many dangerous encounters wherein all their power will be required.

Of course, this system causes a significant upset to the metamagic system. All casters are spontaneous casters now, and as such Metamagic applied to spells causes their casting time to be increased to a full-round action, as would be the case with sorcerers. As such, quicken spell can no longer be used, and no spells with a casting time of one full-round action or greater can have metamagic applied to them.

Metamagic feats increase the spell point cost of spells by their level increase *1.5+1 (ie quicken would require an SP increase of 7) You cannot apply a metamagic feat to a spell if doing so would raise the SP cost above your caster level +1

A new feat is available to compensate for this:
Metamagic mastery:
The first metamagic feat you apply to a spell does not increase its casting time. Adding two, however, will increase it to 1 full-round action. If quicken spell is a part of these two applied feats, the casting time is reduced to one move action.
You may take this feat multiple times, each time you do, you may add one more piece of metamagic to any spell you cast. Additionally, if you are using one fewer metamagic feat than is your maximum, you can use quicken spell as you usually would. For example, if you have this feat twice (making your maximum metamagic feats 3) you may apply quicken and one other metamagic feat to the spell and cast it as a swift action. If, however, you add quicken and two other feats to the spell, the spell is cast as a move action.

You may also wish to note that this will be beneficial in a way to casters, as they will now be able to cast up to 3 spells in a round if you are clever enough to do so. If you chose to take this path and cast a standard action spell, a move action spell, and a swift action spell all in one round, you suffer a magical backlash due to overchannelling and take untyped damage equal to one half the spell points you used in that round. Damage reduction cannot prevent this damage.

Items are influenced by this alteration as well, though only in a menial way. Several considered adaptations are being mulled over now.

Items with uses per day do not actually have uses per day. Instead they have spell points based on the number of spells they usually cast. In effect, an item that can cast invisibility three times per day has 15 spell points. This is relevant only in items that have multiple spells it can be used to cast. If a similar item could cast invisibility three times per day and mage armour once, it will have 17 SP. Those SP could instead be used to cast mage armour 8 times or mage armour five times and invisibility once.

I am considering adding this rule to wands, scrolls and staves as well, but that will require quite a bit of work, especially on staves.

That in truth is all there is to it. Not a major change to spell casting really, just one that requires players to completely re-think common designs for blasting characters and other archetypes as well. It is my goal to make a campaign in which players who are able to munchkin standard classes are forced to rethink their character designs entirely. So far the players in my test campaign seem very pleased with the system, and I hope you are too!

Now, as promised, there is a cosmological reason for this, and I must ask my players to not read the spoiler included here.

Some history.

In the beginning there was only the plane. It was what most would eventually come to call God, though a more accurate term would be "Divine Consciousness." The plane, which would later be named the Plane of Consciousness was a formless mass capable of infinite power. For reasons known only to the Plane itself, it created the Material Plane and populated it with countless creatures. The plane then left those creatures to evolve on their own. Many developed, through fragmented connection to the Plane of Consciousness, an intellect and so arose humanity and self-awareness. And through that self-awareness, those beings learned of the Plane of Consciousness (for Theological justifications for this, I refer my readers to Gnostic Christianity, I don't want to bore you with that amount of philosophy). They developed powers associated with it, for the Plane was one first and foremost one of creativity, the root of course meaning creation. From this intangible and holy bond, psionic powers arose. At this time, the Plane of Consciousness was thick about the Material plane, so close one need only imagine an effect and project it, and such a power would manifest. So strong was this bond that even the lowliest common was able to effect great psionic power. The more powerful minds on this Plane were able to conjure powers so great that legends would claim later they belonged only to the realms of gods. Later, when psionic power had all but evaporated, people would claim that earlier beings were blessed with powers greater than any we know in the present, claiming this showed that humanity had fallen from the grace of the gods.

But of course, there were not gods. But the feeble minds of men, that fragmented consciousness, could not comprehend this.

In these days, there was no need for technological marvel. Psionic power provided all with food and shelter and all things one could possibly need. but when a man is granted all he could desire, he is sure to want more. Wars began, battles between psionic powers so great that the Prime was nearly shattered by their press. Psionic manifestations were used to tear the single landmass apart, separating the existing kingdoms across vast expanses of water. Of course, with the psionic powers as free as they were, this was not much of a deterrent to war, but existed rather as a symbol of separation.

It was the elves who knew this war would surely destroy them all, and it fell to them the heaviest task of all. They researched and they learned through their long studies, where the psionic powers originated, and they contrived a plan. This plan was to create a barrier between the material plane and the Plane of Consciousness through a powerful crystal they called the Avilrith, or Earthroot in the common tongue. They spent many long months manifesting a web of crystal under the surface of the earth, a crystal so powerful that it was invested with energy of its own, though of a different kind. In it they poured all the concepts of intelligent minds, from power, to lust, to fire, to the very idea of race, and so the Avilrith served as a barrier of thick and impenetrable consciousness which barred the intelligent creatures from the Plane. Suddenly, there was nothing. Suddenly, no wars could be waged. Suddenly, the world was bleak. Few with the mental power to penetrate this barrier remained, and so psionics became an idea of the past, along with the utopia it falsely promised.

The Age of Darkness began, and the intelligent creatures quickly realized that without psionics, they had no way to gather food, no way to build homes, no way to survive. Millions died, more than had in the wars, but the intelligent creatures still had the knowledge of what their powers had allowed them to do. They now turned to the physical world to duplicate those things, and so quickly discovered agriculture, mining, woodworking, and all other technologies they needed to rebuild their civilization.

Near a thousand years passed, and the old tales of psionics were now tales of myth and legend. As seems to be common in tales, the few who recalled their power were the elves, and they secretly longed to recapture it. Some reached out for psionic power again, but they found it beyond their reach. Longingly, they turned to the few surviving elders who had conjured the Avilrith barrier, and after a long council, the elves decided to see what they could do using the barrier in place of the psionics. And from here, they pulled the might of magic. Swirling energies of elements, powerful emotions, and wild powers of race came to their call, and so magic was reborn.

Our story takes place long after this. After the elves had put down the Gruu'Thuu'naan in the Celestial Ravaging and after Nuria had risen to power. long after Scipio I raises the Grand City of Scipia from the ground and into the air and long after Salam Dortal unites near all of Nurindal under the Nurian banner. No, the story begins long after Nuria begins the process of urbanizing the Prime Material plane. Our story begins with the beginning of the Gang's Revolution. The Gangs, the Elves of Faest, and the Kingdom of Nuria, the stages for this vicious cabaret. The three stages under the grand overseer, the Grand Maestro. The Gangs, a quintet of groups of vicious people united under the banner of Lord Tarlharn, an ancient red dragon in human form, not that any of the gangs know this; Nuria, a nation not unlike our own Roman Empire, dedicated to the urbanization of all of Nuria, a goal made in hope of bringing all people to peaceful and lawful life; the elves, a fate-driven race standing resolutely outside of the ensuing conflict between Nuria and the Gangs. You see, not everyone supports the unification of the world. Not everyone wishes to be the thralls of an omnipotent government. but the Gangs are small, hardly more than 50,000 objectors. how could they oppose a firmly entrenched and powerful nation of more than 12,000,000?

The answer came to Lord Talharn quite suddenly one day, while sitting in his cave, pondering the predicament. A man suddenly appeared in front of him, quite without warning. The ancient red, who was furious with being taken by surprise, brought down the fury of his breath on the man, who smiled. the flames passed around him, leaving him unharmed. The dragon, filled with rage, leapt at him and wrapped his jaws around the impetuous fool. But his jaws could not touch him. Still the man smiled. Then he spoke, and his words touched the dragon's mind, and all of Talharn's fury drained away. How could he be angry with such a man? He was clearly a friend. And though the concept of trust was foreign to him, Talharn found himself listening and nodding. Soon the man had left, and Talharn's plan was well set in his mind. Still, for the remainder of the day, he couldn't help but feel that someone had given him the idea. Which was strange, because there was certainly no one who came into his cave that day...

Far away, in the grand throneroom of Scipia, Scipio met with a man requesting a private audience. The king, being a kindly man, agreed to let the begger see him in private, respecting his dignity. Soon thereafter the begger left with a loan of three gold pieces, and Scipio had a sudden idea. He sent two hundred men off to the nearby mountains and told them to dig. For what? He didn't know, but he was certain it was a good idea.

Later that year, Scipio's men happened upon a curious substance in their mines. It was a green crystal, and any man who touched it was instantly incinerated. Scipio, curious, went to investigate. Using a miner's pick, he broke off a small piece of the crystal, which sent a jolt down his arm and directly into his heart when he picked it up. Pained, but not killed, he held the crystal curiously, and a sensation of great power and awe came over him. He felt himself thrumming with magical energy. This, this was it. This was the thing he'd be searching for all this time. This crystal seemed to have enhanced his already potent magical abilities. He smiled. It would have to be harvested.

Talharn's spies noted Scipio's mine, and he flew into a great rage. The fool had discovered the magic crystals! He had long known about such things, being ancient and wise, but he had yet to find any of it. His plan fraying before his eyes, he ordered his men to assault the mine and kill the Nurian miners there and bring him back all the gems in the mine.

Over the next two years, Scipio and Talharn raced to acquire as much of the crystal as possible, each racing to build up his own magical arsenal more than his opponent. On the surrounding islands, the elves watched with horror. With the elders who conjured the Avilrith dead, the stories of Avilrith had changed slightly to take on a greater level of fear. To them, the Avilrith was not just the source of magic anymore, but the source of the Plane of Consciousness itself, and they, the whole material plane, was a creation of the Plane. Without the Avilrith bound to the earth, reality would cease to exist. But, they reminded themselves, it was all the working of Fate, and so they refused to interfere.

far away, hidden on a separate plane conjured millennia before, the mastermind, Belshazzar, king of the Apsyrian empire, watched with growing excitement. When psionic powers had been barred by the Avilrith's interplanar bubble, he had taken a civilization of promising Psionics and sequestered them away, teaching them how to access their powers through the Avilrith's masking bubble. He waited, and he grew stronger. Every time his corporeal form neared its death, he possessed the body of another person, extending his age many thousands of years. But now, now his plan was all coming together. As the Avilrith was harvested, as it was destroyed by his secretive psionic soldiers, psionic powers would grow, and so magic would fizzle and wane, until his nation became unstoppable. But by the time the Prime Material plane was aware of his plan, it would be far too late, and soon thereafter, he would crown himself the lord of the entire world, with millions as his slaves.


Cosmological Implications

It hopefully will not have escaped your notice that there is no cosmology here. There is no Plane of Fire, no Celestia, nothing. Instead, what we have is a Plane of Consciousness, a plane which is capable of being literally everything. This plane can hold corporeal forms, so interplanar travel is entirely possible. Nothing on those planes is, shall we have the gall to say, real. Not in the same way as the Prime Material Plane. but, as a wise man once said, "of course it's happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean its not real?"

No, other planes are not real in this world, no Demons and Devils do not exist, no creature not native to the Prime truly exists, but they surely have minds, they surely can kill you, and you surely can kill them. As long as there is a single conscious person with an idea of the Abyss, then the Abyss will exist, as long as a single person believes and imagines a Plane of Pirates, then so too shall a Plane of Pirates exist. It is exceedingly easy to imagine a race sequestered away on a plane of their own imagination then, though it is not as simple as just plane shifting to such a place. You have to either have many, many people who believe in a plane, or you must be able to affect the Plane of Consciousness through a powerful spell or power (like Genesis) to imbue the collective unconscious with such an idea. And that's what it is! This is very important to note too. The Plane of Consciousness is the Collective Unconscious of all sentient beings. As such, the Plane of Consciousness is the essential nature of all beings, and it is why knowing yourself is key to the practice of Psionics, for one who knows there Self knows the All-Self. What some might call God, I suppose.

There is a great deal of Theological implications and allusions in this campaign world (as well as historical ones, try typing in Belshazzar into google and seeing the connection there). I spend a lot of time considering the philosophies and religious aspects of my campaign worlds, and one thing that has always been critical to me is "what the HELL is magic?" There has to be some CAUSE, there has to be some way it WORKS. So it is with that that I have designed this rather extensive examination (and there's plenty more to, PM me if you'd like to read some more history or theology or philosophy or... anything really.)

I'll be cross-posting this to world building too, with some more information there. Hope you enjoyed reading!

I'll be cross-posting this to world building too, with some more information there. Hope you enjoyed reading!

2011-08-24, 08:17 AM
It was with that thought in mind that I set out to redesign the entire magic system in D&D 3.5 so that magic was a little more powerful, certainly more usable.
Someone is eventually going to link you to this, so...

Other than the level 1 caster, a buff to magic users is about the last thing 3.5 needs:smallwink:

2011-08-24, 03:48 PM
Casting magic missile twice in a day, at low levels, would mean killing one orc, total.

Casting sleep or colour spray twice in a day would instantly win two encounters, total. (With some luck and a good feat selection.)

Add charm person in there and you can take down one encounter and have someone else do all the fighting for you for all of the others. While you use your crossbow.

2011-08-24, 03:53 PM
But that's the true problem of spells, isn't it? They aren't balanced amongst themselves.

I'm pretty sure the vast majority of people who play DND as wizards/sorcerers go for standard blasting over highly optimized AOE save-or-lose effects. For these people, low levels really do suck. I often see this in my games. Yes, it would be nice if they got a little help like the OP is doing. Broken spells are broken spells, you should modify/remove the problematic spells and not take it out on the class itself.

2011-08-24, 04:03 PM
If one is concerned about this there are two easy options.

1. Get bonus spell slots for cantrips, extending the bonus spells table in the obvious way. This will generally be adding a handful of extra cantrip uses daily but won't end up mattering after 2 or 3 levels.

2. Allow cantrips to be at will as long as the cantrip doesn't create stuff. Wizards can only use the ones they've prepared for the day. This option is slightly more powerful and makes sure the low level magic user never runs out of things to do, but in practice doesn't do much more than 1, and has the worrisome result of making the spellcasters have a benefit that continues to provide a bit at higher levels. Moreover, some cantrips if used properly can be quite useful. This means that this will translate into a boost (albeit small) even when wizards and sorcerers are outshining most of the party.

Both these options are not uncommon. However, they aren't very necessary either. It seems to many to be appropriately fluffy that wizards start off all weak and not able to do much but from careful study they can do a lot.

This is also only really an issue at first level (maybe second level at most) so it isn't clear to me this needs to be fixed. People don't spend that much time at first level.

Either of these options is substantially simpler than what is proposed here, solve the essential problem you want, and don't result in massive power increases to the classes that are already considered the strongest for mid-level and high-level play.

2011-08-24, 07:50 PM
I think I may have misassessed my own purpose. Yes, the purpose was to help characters in earlier levels, but also to make magic a powerful and dominating force in a storyverse wherein magic is all-pervasive and immensely powerful. I was trying to make magic equally balanced and powerful through the entire campaign. I also wanted to make it impossible to optimize characters in the same way as is common in non-house ruled campaigns.

2011-08-24, 08:17 PM
Check out Advanced d20 Magic and Slayers d20. Between them you can have a system that makes casters massively more powerful and versatile. Ironically, it also makes fighters and paladins really really good wizards.

Basic idea: Make a Fort save + Caster level + a few other things to cast a spell (material components, time, somatic and verbal components, etc). Spells cost 'drain' which comes out of hitpoints (in terms of non-healable 'sticky' nonlethal damage) and/or a mana pool (based on a new stat called 'magical capacity'). Every class has a certain number of spell slots they can fill with spells, and these can be swapped out but it takes one hour per point of the DC of the spell (so ~30-40 hours to relearn a spell).

Wizards have infinite slots, clerics get all spells but all casting is a full round action, and sorcerers get DR against spell drain.

The gross parts: If you can hit the DC, you can cast it, regardless of your level. So that Paladin+Abjurant Champion+1 level of wizard guy can beat archmages in magical might. Second gross part: xp, gp, etc components are converted into increases to the DC. So if you can pull off a DC 101 Fort save, you can cast Wish for free (excepting drain), with all that entails. Sounds hard, right? Well...

Take a day to cast: +20 to check
Name spell: +5 to check
Incant spell: +5 to check
Drain taken as lethal damage: +5 to check
Use focus: +2 to check
Moment of Prescience: up to +20 to check
Improvisation: up to ~+10 to check

and so on...

2011-08-25, 12:28 AM
Casting sleep or colour spray twice in a day would instantly win two encounters, total. (With some luck and a good feat selection.)

Most of the time, more than just "some luck" would be needed for all the enemies to fail their saves.
And at level 1, you get only 1 feat, 2 if human. That's not enough to make a big difference unless you allow broken feats. (Yes, yes, I know, flaws...flaws are broken, and so the brokenness of a wizard with flaws proves nothing about wizards.)

Add charm person in there and you can take down one encounter and have someone else do all the fighting for you for all of the others. While you use your crossbow.

Charm person is a horrible combat spell. The target gets a +5 bonus, you need an opposed CHA check to get it to do anything it normally wouldn't (and because its attitude is friendly rather than helpful, combat counts as something it normally wouldn't do), and a Protection from Evil spell will turn it back into an enemy.

Now, this is not to say that there aren't serious problems with nondamaging spells, but that has to be shown with actual numbers and scaling calculations, not just claims that if everything goes perfectly it'll win you the fight.