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D&D General Casting spells vs Magical features

dave2008

Legend
After perusing the Bards Should Be Half-Casters thread, it got me thinking about magic in D&D. Traditionally (I think) most magic was expressed by spells (or magic items). However, at some point classes began to get more and more magical features that were magical but not spells. Reflecting on this I thought that maybe that would be a better way to distinguish magical classes than different spell lists. I get the ease of a spell list, but I think it might be interesting if we severely reduced caster classes, but not necessarily magic classes. So my first thought is:

Option A:
  1. Only Magic-Users (AKA Wizards, and their subclasses) have traditional spells and lists.
  2. All other magic using classes have bespoke magical features (like turn undead or bardic inspiration or whatever).
Option B
  1. Only Magic-Users (AKA Wizards, and their subclasses) and Clerics (and their subclasses) have traditional spell lists. This is just for tradition really. I personally prefer option A.
  2. All other magic using classes have bespoke magical features (like turn undead or bardic inspiration or whatever).
So warlocks and witches, sorcerers and eldritch knights, and everything in-between would have magical features, but not spells. I realize this is a lot more design work, but I think it could be really interesting if done well and you could still establish a general format for these magical features so softens the learning curve between classes.

Anyway, that is my simple proposal. What do you think?
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
Sure, everything could be done, in a hypothetical design of a new RPG.

You have to keep in mind however, that spells are for most classes still used to give a large array of capabilities with the caveat that you have to select a subset of them to be available at a given time (in other words, spell preparation). At least this is the default in D&D for the most iconic classes.

Classes that do not prepare spells but just know a bunch of them and can cast them every day, are one step towards your idea, so in a sense if you want you can already see a Sorcerer as having spell-like abilities. But they still follow spell rules for the other most import thing which is slots to manage exactly how many of them can be used in a day. So to follow your idea of getting away from spells and towards magical abilities, I think a first step could be to replace the slot mechanic with something different, just to change the feel. Spell points is the obvious choice and the Warlock's own spellcasting mechanism might be even better.

But then of course to really break away from spells, you might want those magical abilities to be something entirely different, perhaps not even described in terms of "level" and "school" but each ability being unique. That of course would be indeed a lot of design work.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Going back to at least 1e many AD&D classes have had both spells as a magical feature--think high level paladins and rangers--and non-spell magical features--also paladin, monk, druid, the original bard (which also had spells), etc. Same for many monsters. So nothing new there.

3e made all spells that were the same the same. 4e went the other way and gave every class (and many monsters) unique powers and abilities.

4es approach sort of makes sense...but in play it was just kind of a pain.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I am in favor of more magical features that aren’t just spells, but I think cutting spells from every class but wizard (and maybe cleric) is going a bit too far with the idea. Mostly I just wish more classes explored more of the design space of the spells and spell slots system. Warlock is one example of how spells and spell slots can be used to do something different and interesting. Let’s have more of that! Not just more classes that use the warlock chassis, but more classes that break the mold, like the warlock does.
 

TheSword

Legend
To be honest I don’t see Turn Undead and Bardic inspiration etc as magical. They’re just abilities. They work in anti-magic spheres in game terms, and in campaign terms I would be more than happy having them in a low magic/non-magic world. One is force of will and devotion, the other is the power of motivation.
 

dave2008

Legend
But then of course to really break away from spells, you might want those magical abilities to be something entirely different, perhaps not even described in terms of "level" and "school" but each ability being unique. That of course would be indeed a lot of design work.
Yes, that is what I was suggesting. I would keep the wizard a classic spell caster w/ spells and maybe the cleric (so the classic 4 are basically familiar), but everything else is magical abilities that are part of their class. Now that I think about it, 4e already did this basically.
 

dave2008

Legend
3e made all spells that were the same the same. 4e went the other way and gave every class (and many monsters) unique powers and abilities.
Yes, I just thought about that myself, 4e basically had the approach I am talking about. I would still keep that classic wizard with the spell list (maybe cleric too), but everything else is bespoke magic (I see some combination of 4e and 5e magic features here). This would also make it easy to just add a Psion for those who want it (not me).
4es approach sort of makes sense...but in play it was just kind of a pain.
Interesting I didn't find it to be a pain.
 

dave2008

Legend
To be honest I don’t see Turn Undead and Bardic inspiration etc as magical. They’re just abilities. They work in anti-magic spheres in game terms, and in campaign terms I would be more than happy having them in a low magic/non-magic world. One is force of will and devotion, the other is the power of motivation.
Regardless of whether you consider those specific abilities magical or not, what I am talking about is magical abilities that are class features like Turn Undead and Bardic Inspiration (or maneuvers), not spells from a general spell list.
 

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