OneDnD Arcane/Divine/Primal Spell Lists: Are the Benefits Real?

Amrûnril

Adventurer
The One D&D playtest puts forward shared Arcane, Divine and Primal spell lists as replacements for unique class-based lists. I think this is a change with significant costs. Unique spell lists are arguably the biggest factor distinguishing spellcasting classes from one another, so removing them from all but three classes* will make the remaining classes less distinctive and their spell options less flavorful. Given these costs, it’s important to consider whether the benefits of the change are worth it. Yet the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that none of the purported benefits of shared spell lists hold up to serious scrutiny.


The main arguments in favor of shared spell lists seem to revolve around future-proofing, or forwards compatibility. But I don’t think shared spell list actually an improvement in this regard. Xanathar’s and Tasha’s have added both new spells and a new spellcasting class without unique spell lists being an issue. While looking through multiple indices for spells is a pain, this is a consequence of having spells in multiple sourcebooks, not of having them on lists labeled as “Cleric” and “Wizard” instead of “Divine” and “Arcane”. And checking a spell list labeled “Bard” is actually easier than opening the “Arcane” list and having to check the school notation next to each spell**.

As for feats, subclasses, magic items and the like, an ability that references the Arcane spell list is no more future-proofed than one that references the Wizard spell list. In either case future spells will be added or not added to the relevant list as flavor and balance dictate, and the ability’s reference to that list will remain valid. In the rare cases where a reference to a new class’s list would be appropriate (the developers’ preferred example is the Magic Initiate feat), a new version of the ability in question may actually have its own benefits: the Artificer Initiate feat’s substitution of tool proficiency for one of the cantrips make it better at capturing the flavor of a character dabbling in Artificer magic than an updated Magic Initiate feat would have been. And of course, writing the original ability with an open-ended list of class options would also have been a possibility.

It’s hard to see the new system as being more elegant either, given the ad-hoc adjustments needed to return the Bard to some semblance of its former function. There may be a flavor benefit in some settings, but since some spells are on multiple lists, it seems like it would make more sense to attach that flavor to the caster than to the spell. I suppose the reduced number of spell lists would save 3 or 4 pages in the PHB, but I really can't see a benefit beyond that.


*Whatever the changes in nomenclature, the Arcane, Divine and Primal spell lists are still fundamentally class-based lists, built around the types of spells Wizards, Clerics and Druids have traditionally been able to use in D&D.
**It also seems odd for the developers to focus on this sort of concern given their emphasis elsewhere on digital tools which, if well constructed, should be able to seamlessly blend spells and spell lists from multiple sourcebooks. And even for analog players, it shouldn't be difficult to provide merged spell lists as printable documents.
 

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niklinna

Legend
I agree with you 100%. But I would like to point out that Pathfinder 2 did spell lists abstracted—slightly—from classes, and it worked out pretty well. Of course they have four lists, and certain subclasses get to choose which list they use, which opens up fun, flavorful, and thematic combinations.

I'll add that the current "you get this list but only a subset of the schools" is more confusing and complicated than either a class-specific list or a generic list. Unless they provide the actual lists you get access to—which boils down to being a class-specific list—you're going to have to do some fishing.

**It also seems odd for the developers to focus on this sort of concern given their emphasis elsewhere on digital tools which, if well constructed, should be able to seamlessly blend spells and spell lists from multiple sourcebooks. And even for analog players, it shouldn't be difficult to provide merged spell lists as printable documents.
The last time I saw any well-constructed software was over a decade ago. :p (Was half-tempted to put a sob emoji there but I'm trying to keep my mood up.)
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
I think it's an improvement, much easier to say X spell is an arcane spell rather than adding it to wizard, sorcerer, artificer and wondering if it should also be a warlock spell. Having three spell lists is much better than the 8 spell lists we have now.
One of the problems with these Source Lists is, a spell can be Arcane AND Divination AND Primal simultaneously, making the lists and the spell description an ambiguous unclear mess.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Tweaking the Spell Schools to be more thematic is a better solution. Updated School lists give more resolution to distinguish between classes, and also allow future features to come with a School tag in order to apply to several classes that are known for this School.

Conjuration: telekinesis, force constructs, magical energy
Divination: scrying, fate, teleportation, planar effects
Evocation: elemental effects, earth, water, air, and fire
Enchantment: mind effects
Illusion: reality alteration
Necromancy: planar darkside, Undead, Fiend, Aberration
Transmutation: life, lifeform, body, shapeshifting, healing, plant and animal

While subclasses might do differently, the base classes generally feel like:
Wizard = Conjuration, Evocation, Illusion
Bard = Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, Transmutation
Druid = Divination, Evocation, Transmutation
Cleric = Divination, Necromancy, Transmutation
Warlock = Conjuration, Divination, Illusion, Necromancy
Sorcerer = Evocation, Necromancy, Transmutation
Psion = Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Transmutation

The classes can refer to the discrete and flavorful School lists.
 

Psionics could potentially be a problem for their Futureproofing too. Unless they either start have a 4th source list, or basically say "Psions based on Discipline use select schools from certain source lists"
 





Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
5 is better for a start and they can add more.

5 is also how MTG does it and they are under the same roof.

With 5, they can easily future proof it by adding new lists if they include the new lists and classes that use them in the same books.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Yes the benefits are real & two fold even beyond the ability to have setting/theme specific drop in replacements.

  • Full casters who are masters of their particular power source at the cost of not getting a bunch of notable class features like the close runnerup who only gets all the top shelf spells & most of the rest actually get to feel like being a master of it is a meaningful thing
  • Classes that are competent niche casters with a bunch of class abilities get to have more meaningful abilities for their niche while anything they take to expand that niche to be wider or deeper (ie race/feat/mc/magic item/etc) actually feel s special rather than an extra free csast of X spell or whatever
I did some test games with L6-L7 characters & the drow/infernal tiefling bard/ranger both noted how it felt cool that their race really made them play different because of the spells those races added.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Identify all of the spells which the new system allows Class X to take. Put them together in a list. Repeat for all classes. Boom, you have just replicated the functionality of the new system using the old. There is literally nothing that the new system does which cannot be done by the old system.

The reverse, however, is not true; there are many things the old system could do which the new system can't, which is why they had to kludge in healing magic for bards via class feature.

So the only question is whether the new system offers some kind of operational benefit, such as being easier to use (it isn't), or "future-proofing" (an argument which OP solidly demolishes and I have nothing to add).
 

shadowoflameth

Adventurer
Personally, I think three is fine. That said, IMHO we also need class spell lists. No one wants to sort through in character creation going by the individual school. Especially players using the physical books. Books that WotC is still going to want to sell. Make Arcane, Divine and Primal a Tag, example; Magic Missile, 1st level Evocation, Vocal, Somatic, Arcane. If every caster got the whole Arcane list or in the case of the Bard, the chance to cherry pick every list and change what they pick, it takes space to shine away from other classes, and if everyone knows every spell, what is the benefit of being the Wizard? Up to now, the ability to learn new spells outside of level ups. And if every enemy is potentially the Ranger's favored enemy, then why wouldn't anyone who wants to fight against a backstory enemy choose Ranger or a 1 level dip?
 

If they do keep this spell list system, and bar certain classes from certain schools, I hope they make the lists more user friendly by parsing out the spells by school at each level. I'd make it a lot easier to know which spells to notice and which to ignore.
 

cbwjm

Legend
One of the problems with these Source Lists is, a spell can be Arcane AND Divination AND Primal simultaneously, making the lists and the spell description an ambiguous unclear mess.
I don't actually think that's an issue, DnD has always had spells that crossed between lists and I think that I actually prefer it that way rather than having some spell lists missing out. I wouldn't want animate dead to be just arcane or divine, I want there to be necromancers or death cultists that have access to the spells like animate dead that help the theme.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I don't actually think that's an issue, DnD has always had spells that crossed between lists and I think that I actually prefer it that way rather than having some spell lists missing out. I wouldn't want animate dead to be just arcane or divine, I want there to be necromancers or death cultists that have access to the spells like animate dead that help the theme.
By referring to School lists instead, any class (or subclass) that has Necromancy will have access to Animate Dead.
 

cbwjm

Legend
If they do keep this spell list system, and bar certain classes from certain schools, I hope they make the lists more user friendly by parsing out the spells by school at each level. I'd make it a lot easier to know which spells to notice and which to ignore.
I thought they have been doing this with their later books, including the school next to the spell. Granted I don't know of I'd rather have them organise the lists by level, then school, then spell or just keep doing it how they're doing it now with school listed after the spell.
 

Amrûnril

Adventurer
I think it's an improvement, much easier to say X spell is an arcane spell rather than adding it to wizard, sorcerer, artificer and wondering if it should also be a warlock spell. Having three spell lists is much better than the 8 spell lists we have now.
The way I see it, being able to design a spell available to wizards and warlocks but not sorcerers (for instance) is a feature, not a bug. And I think it's going to be easier to do that on a case by case basis than by keeping track of the implications of each spell school/power source combination.

5 is better for a start and they can add more.

5 is also how MTG does it and they are under the same roof.

With 5, they can easily future proof it by adding new lists if they include the new lists and classes that use them in the same books.
Five works well in MTG because the game was built from the ground up around five power sources with distinct mechanical and conceptual identities. D&D's spell lists are instead seeking to emulate a lot of ideosyncratic genre history. They could in theory be rebuilt in a more systematic way (perhaps something along the lines of @Yaarel 's proposal), but this would require a willingness to break with a lot of traditions, and I don't think the product would look at all like the Arcane/Divine/Primal lists.

Yes the benefits are real & two fold even beyond the ability to have setting/theme specific drop in replacements.

  • Full casters who are masters of their particular power source at the cost of not getting a bunch of notable class features like the close runnerup who only gets all the top shelf spells & most of the rest actually get to feel like being a master of it is a meaningful thing
  • Classes that are competent niche casters with a bunch of class abilities get to have more meaningful abilities for their niche while anything they take to expand that niche to be wider or deeper (ie race/feat/mc/magic item/etc) actually feel s special rather than an extra free csast of X spell or whatever
I did some test games with L6-L7 characters & the drow/infernal tiefling bard/ranger both noted how it felt cool that their race really made them play different because of the spells those races added.
I think there are definitely benefits to having classes with extensive spell repetoires (like Wizards) alongside classes with shorter spell lists but more non-spell abilities (like Bards). But I think that customized lists can accomplish this better than shared lists with school restrictions.
 

I thought they have been doing this with their later books, including the school next to the spell. Granted I don't know of I'd rather have them organise the lists by level, then school, then spell or just keep doing it how they're doing it now with school listed after the spell.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd find it easier to scan past a block of school sorted spells than individual spells tagged by school in an alphabetical list. 🤷‍♂️
 

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