29 July 2007

House Rules (I) - Spellcasters

One of the things that has always made me crazy about the D&D magic rules is the notion that a wizard or cleric has to get up in the morning and load his head with spells. I've read no end of articles and gaming books, from First Edition onwards, explaining why the game was designed this way, and I've never found a reason that didn't sound like post-facto justification for "we just decided to do it this way".

It drove me so nuts, in fact, that back in the Second Edition days I had a number of "custom classes" that gave spellcasters the option of simply casting whatever spells they knew, up to a certain internal energy limit per day (I even called them Sorcerers, although this was a nod to the Eddings' and The Belgariad). This led to calculations of "mana points" and all sorts of other annoying special rules, but at least it got us past the notion that a wizard's noggin' was like a meaty version of a rifle magazine.

Then came Third Edition, and woo-hoo! Sorcerers and Bards! (Good bards, not crazy, impossible-to-qualify-for multiclass fighter-thief bards). But wizards, clerics, paladins and rangers...same old, same old; up at dawn to spend an hour nodding over the spellbook, praying to the Almighty Whatnot, or contemplating the natural beauty of a dandelion while the rest of the party stands guard, makes breakfast, packs the tents, and looks at its watch.


Fortunately, the fix was easier for Third Edition than for the older versions. The answer? No more obligatory memorization/prayer. You got the power? You know the spell? You can cast it, baby, and the DM exerts his control over what spells you can cast by ensuring that the knowledge necessary to cast them is not widely available (e.g., for wizards, the hottest spells can be hard to find, and for clerics, dieties tend to be a little careful about granting the most powerful spells, handing them out only to the most devout and observant of their servants). And wizards are still differentiated from sorcerers, because while sorcerers have more individual power (they can cast more spells per day), wizards have more individual knowledge (they have more spells they can cast).

This led to the special house rules for spellcasters outlined below. Enjoy.

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Special Rules for Spellcasters

The number of spells that can be cast each day by an arcane or divine spellcaster is a reflection of his or her experience and individual power.

Wizards are knowledge-based spellcasters; for them, magic is a science that must be studied in order to improve in ability. A wizard’s power is grounded in the number of spells that he knows rather than the number of spells he can cast. Wizards are taught certain spells at first level, and thereafter must find new spells, and add them to their repertoire, in order to be able to cast them. A Wizard may advance in level and gain the ability to cast new or more spells, and there is no limit to the number of spells they can know; but unless they can find (or invent) new spells, they are stuck with the ones they already know. This knowledge is kept in the Wizard’s head, and can be lost if the Wizard suffers temporary (or permanent) intelligence or wisdom damage. Wizards, therefore, keep spellbooks in order to guard against mental damage causing loss of spell knowledge. Also, to have something to trade with other wizards in order to be able to gain new spells.

A wizard, therefore, can use a spell slot of a given level to cast any spell that he knows, or any spell he knows of any lower level (e.g., a 5th-level wizard could use one of his 3rd-level spell slots to cast Fireball, or any second or first-level spell or cantrip that he knows). No “memorization” is required; the wizard need only get reasonably restful sleep for a minimum of one-quarter of a day in order to regain his energy and ability to focus on the manipulating arcane energy.

Wizards can only learn spells from written sources, like a spellbook or a scroll. When learning from a spellbook, the wizard must make Spellcraft check against the Wizard who wrote the spellbook, as follows:


d20+CL+Spellcraft+(Knowledge(Arcana)/5)+Int Bonus



10+Writer’s CL+Writer’s Int or Cha bonus+spell level

If he succeeds in this check, he can understand the spellbook. If he does not, he cannot understand it. He can make another attempt any time his Spellcraft skill level or his intelligence increases. It is also not uncommon for a Wizard to magically enhance his or her intelligence before attempting to learn a new spell in this fashion.

When a wizard learns a spell from a scroll, the scroll is discharged harmlessly. The wizard can write the new spell into his spellbook at his leisure.

Sorcerers are energy-based spellcasters; for them, magic flows from their inner being, and is shaped and molded by them into results. A sorcerer’s power is grounded in how many spells he can cast, rather than how many he knows. Because a sorcerer’s focus is on inner energy rather than knowledge, he cannot retain as many spells in his mind. Unlike wizards, all of whom are taught to be what they are, sorcerers often emerge spontaneously, when their innate power bursts forth, usually in response to some physical or emotional crisis. Such “rogue sorcerers” begin their careers knowing only a few spells (usually very basic, raw power spells like Burning Hands or Jump), and progress only by fits and starts unless they are identified for what they are, and receive more formal instruction, usually from another sorcerer. This is how most sorcerers from uncivilized, barbarian or remote lands progress.

Alternatively, if an innate sorcerer is caught early on, he can be formally instructed and taught new, selected spells by his master, albeit from a limited repertoire. This is how most sorcerers from civilized, advanced lands progress.

Sorcerers cannot learn spells from a “non-charged” source like a wizard’s spellbook; they can only mentally absorb the arcane symbology and casting method by discharging a “charged” source. This is usually a scroll, although a charged magical item could be used as well. When attempting to learn a new spell by absorption from such an item (e.g. a ring, rod, staff or wand), the sorcerer must make a Spellcraft check against the Caster Level of the item, as follows:

d20+CL+Spellcraft+(Knowledge(Arcana)/5)+Cha Bonus


10+Maker’s CL+Maker’s Int or Cha bonus+spell level

If the sorcerer fails the check, the item expends the number of charges necessary to activate the spell, and the spell takes effect against the cast (50%) or someone or something nearby (50%). All penalties and saves apply. If the sorcerer passes the check, the item expends the number of charges necessary to activate the spell, but it discharges harmlessly, and the sorcerer has learned a new spell. It is not uncommon for a sorcerer to magically enhance his or her charisma before attempting to learn a new spell in this fashion.

Because sorcerers have an upper limit on the number of spells they know, they have the option of “forgetting” a known spell in order to be able to gain a new one. The sorcerer must deliberately concentrate for a full minute to “blank his mind” and “lose the spell”. He must make a save, modified only by his Charisma bonuses (with a +2 bonus for every five points in Spellcraft), against DC (10+spell level) to forget the right spell; if he fails, he will forget a random spell. Once he has forgotten the old spell, he can attempt to learn the new one. If he forgets to “forget” an old spell before attempting to learn a new one, the learning attempt will automatically fail (with consequences if the sorcerer was learning from a charged magic item), and he will take 3d4 points of Wisdom damage (Will save for half).

Clerics gain their spellcasting ability through divine strength accorded by their diety, his Servants and his Avatars, in response to two things: appropriate reverence and observance of rites and rituals (e.g. prayers, meditation, sacrificing chickens and whatnot); and living from day-to-day in accordance with the dictates of the diety. Clerics do not memorize spells; they petition their diety directly at the time of casting to shape the divine power into the form needed to achieve the desired effect. Accordingly, Clerics automatically “know” all of the spells on their authorized lists, and simply “ask” their diety at time of casting to let that particular spell effect come into being.

A cleric’s power is limited by two factors. First, not all deities permit their clerics to cast all spells. Good deities, for example, forbid the use of divine magic to cause harm or disease, and might forbid necromantic effects and the animation or creation of undead. A diety of the waters (for example, Thanos or Vara) or the Woodlands (e.g., Larranel) might forbid the use of wide-area fire-based spells like Flame Strike, while a cleric of Korkrynn, Lady of Raptors, might not have access to earth-based spells like Stonetell, Stoneshape or Stone to Flesh (although a cleric of Korkrynn with the Air Domain could Turn earth creatures). Most good Powers also oppose the creation or animation of Undead.

Second, a cleric’s power may be limited directly by his diety in response to impiety. Even if a diety can’t watch everyone all the time, all of the major Powers have an array of Servants, Avatars and greater Minions at their beck and call, who monitor the performance of their worshippers – particularly their priests and paladins. Some deities are more strict about observances than others, but in all cases, any priest or paladin who acts against the dictates of his religion will be punished – and the most common punishment, and the first resorted to, is withholding of special spells. A cleric who has been especially backsliding, for example, might be permitted only spells that cure, bless, neutralize poison or disease, or create or purify food, drink or water – a direct sign of his diety’s displeasure, and a pretty clear message that it’s time to get back to basics.

Bards cast and learn spells like wizards; their magical abilities come from knowledge of music and poetry and all of the magic contained in the sung or spoken word. This knowledge is written and handed down using Ogham, a special, quasi-magical written language known only to bards (it has no spoken words – it is purely a code that may be used with any language, although it is most commonly used with the Elven tongue). As such, it doesn’t evolve like other languages do, and has remained remarkably stable for millennia. Moreover, since bardic knowledge is intended to be protected and transmitted between the generations, bards tend to write clearly and eloquently, with a view to their work being legible and comprehensible for centuries to come. As a result there is no need for a bard to make any sort of check when perusing the written works of another bard – including for the purposes of learning how to case new bardic spells.

Rangers and Paladins acquire and cast spells like clerics, petitioning them directly from their deities. Both classes tend to have a specific diety, as a cleric would. Paladins of any race may worship Chamdran (females only) or Iarwain (males only). Human paladins generally look to Jurdish, Dwarves to Zoraz, and Elves to Hara himself. Rangers tend to revere woodland dieties: either Hara or his servant Larranel (Corellon), or one of the avatars of the woodlands: Shanyreet (autumn, winter, trees), Csaeleyan (spring, summer, flowers), or Istravenya (combat, fey and the wildwood). Occasionally a more chaotic ranger will choose a wilder diety, like Karg or Khallach.


1) These special rules obviate both Spontaneous Casting (clerics), and the Spell Mastery feat (wizards). There is no replacement for Spontaneous Casting; Spell Mastery gives a Wizard an additional number of spell levels that can be cast per day, equal to his or her Intelligence bonus, divided as he/she sees fit (e.g. a Wizard with 17 Int would gain 3 additional levels per day and could cast 3 x 1st level, or 1 x 2nd and 1 x 1st level additional spells). These additional spell levels can also be used to "boost" spells for metamagic feats.

2) Nobody needs "alone time" any more, so long as they get a full night's sleep (1/4 of the day span) or, for Elves, "reverie" (1/8 of the day span and an additional 1/8 of simple rest). Ability to cast spells the is proportional to the fraction of sleep obtained the night before (e.g. 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep means a caster could only cast 1/2 his normal spells per level the following day).

3) Divine Spell Limitations: only the most powerful of deities can grant the most powerful of spells. The limitations are outlined in the chart heading this post.
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Clear as mud, eh? Well, it's been working for the past year, so we're going to hang onto it for now. Different DMs, different rules.