Alternative Spelling

So today I’m going to discuss the magic system I’ll be using in my modded 5th edition D&D game, and why I’m completely discarding the D&D spell list for it in addition to changing how magic works in the first place. Fair warning for those who hold tightly to rules-as-written: I’m taking a machete to the rules.

So the first and most significant change is that I will be disallowing first-level spellcaster classes; I’m open to discussion if a player really wants to play a class where full casting is part of the class but not the centralmost focus, but that’ll take some special hacks. Instead, every single class is going to get spell points as if they’re full casters. At the same time, I’m fully discarding all the spells from the 5th edition spellbook and devising my own lists as needed.

The central reason behind this is that, in the world and time that the players begin, magic is completely forgotten. Events in the past caused it to be seen as a terrible thing, and while some spellcasters hung on for a time, it eventually died out with them. This is important because the events of the game will introduce the players to situations with magic, and by 2nd level I fully intend for them to have their first spells available.

As for why I’m ditching the 5th edition spell lists, the first and foremost reason is that I’m turning the different damage types into the elemental forces of the game world, and it’ll be easier to build spells from scratch for that. Additionally, it means I can build the spell system as I need it, providing my players with an interesting array of options. But, in addition to that, we have to acknowledge that the D&D spell lists are a hodge-podge of old-school holdovers, weird new bits that someone tried in an earlier edition that don’t work as intended but no one can explain why they need to go, and a ton of edge-case spells that are incredibly useful if the right situation for them turns up, all in addition to the familiar old workhorse spells that everyone takes, like fireball and cure wounds (which they at least distilled down to a single variable spells and not CLW/CMW/CSW/CCW and so on.)

On top of that, I’ll be designing the method of spell acquisition as a form of magic items. While there will be a lone slotless type of magic item that can be attuned whose entire purpose is teaching spells, there will be more familiar items that can teach magic in addition to their regular function. A magic dagger that inflicts cold damage might also teach a few cold-based spells; a firebolt wand might teach that specific spell; a ring of protection might teach some spells that grant resistance to the various elements – and they all might have a bonus ability on top of their regular function, tied to the spells they teach.

As for learning the spells, my current plan is to have a time requirement for an item to be attuned before a given spell can be learned from it, after which the spells can be learned as if one were a wizard copying the spell into their spellbook. This is simpler and easier than a different notion, which involved awarding a secondary form of XP that the players could spend as acquired to learn spells, at something like 100 Spell XP/spell level to learn it. As it is, I’ll likely just require the players to remain attuned to an item for a number of days equal to the cumulative total of the spell level of what they want to learn. (So a first-level spell is only one day, but a second-level spell is three, and a seventh-level spell requires 28 days of continuous attunement.)

As an example, we might have Frostfang, a relatively low-end dagger:

  • Hit bonus: +0
  • Damage: 1d4 (cold)
  • Spells: Frostlight (level 0), Icicle (level 1), Chill Touch (level 1), Frost Shield (level 2)
  • Special: On a critical hit, Frostfang chills the enemy, allowing them only one action the following round unless cold-attuned.

Frostlight is an ice-aligned equivalent to light, producing light in bluish-white shades; Icicle is a ranged attack damage spell that conjures a shard of ice and flings it; Chill Touch allows a person to deal additional cold damage for a few rounds; and Frost Shield grants resistance to fire-aligned attacks. Nothing too special.

On the other hand, a higher-end item might be the Chromatic Shield:

  • AC Bonus: +3
  • Spells: Light (level 0), Radiance (level 3), Radiant Rays (level 4), Starfall (level 6), Nova (level 8)
  • Special: Immunity to Necrotic effects, can be persistently enchanted with Light at will

Light is just that, although the shield’s special ability means you can cast it and forget it as long as you like; Radiance is a radiant-aligned fireball equivalent; Radiant Rays targets up to three creatures with coherent energy beams; Starfall drops a shower of stars on a target area; and Nova hit a large area with a lot of radiant damage and might inflict temporary blindness.

Naturally these are pretty much off the top of my head, so neither one is particularly concrete or balanced against anything, and they’re both missing the utility spells and abilities I’ll likely add on with a bunch of things, but they provide an idea of how the items for this spell system will look.

If there’s interest, I’ll be happy to expand on this in a later post, providing more finalized examples of what will turn up in the game, and providing better explanations of the spells themselves.

Until next time, folks!

Alternative Spelling

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