D&D 5E Limiting Cantrips?

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Has anyone house-ruled a limitation, like 3rd edition had, on the # of cantrips that can be cast before rest is needed (e.g. limit to # known or # known + ability modifier per short rest)? Was curious to hear any positive or negatives from actual play before I consider whether to add this to our table (which seeks a grittier style of play). I know some potential areas of concern from reading are:
  • Warlocks. I'm planning on adopting Level Up's version of the Warlock, which currently turns Eldritch Blast from a cantrip to a class feature. Wonderful idea imo and resolves this concern.
  • Lesser-used cantrips. Some of the more trivial cantrips may never get used, like mending or prestidigitation, as casters save their slots for combat.
  • Scaling for higher level play (as the number doesn't increase but reliance might in order to save big spells for big occasions).
  • Tracking. Just another # to track. And if we make it too low, hoarding. If we make it too high, what's the point.
Anyhow, anyone actually tried it?
 

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Stormonu

Legend
I've been considering it, limiting the uses per interval (something like proficiency bonus + spellcast modifier per short rest), and I'd be curious as well to see if anyone has taken the leap and how it worked out.

Also, I'd like to see interesting alternatives to Eldritch Blast so its not so much of a one-trick attack class.
 

I use: # cantrips per short rest = caster ability modifier * per 90 days downtime "cantrip study" at 1 gp per day per level of caster. Some magic items, such as a wand, might add to that.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I played back in AD&D and AD&D 2nd before there were cantrips. If you weren't casting a slot you were throwing darts or firing a crossbow. It didn't feel very magical.

Cantrips let a pure caster feel like a caster. You can do minor magical things all the time without using up slots, and even when you are in combat you have things to do once your slots are consumed or you want to save them for future encounters.

Taking them away is a big flavor issue.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
There’s an OSR game called Beyond the Wall, where casters have at-will cantrips but each casting requires a check. Failing the check means either a) no more magic for the rest of the day or b) you botch the cantrip and cause a negative result.

I also ran a 5e knockoff where knowing a cantrip meant you knew the method of making a personal wand for that cantrip. Each cantrip wand had 7 charges and regained 2d4 charges at dawn and dusk. Not super limited, but enough to prevent abuse and felt a little more magic-y.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Has anyone house-ruled a limitation, like 3rd edition had, on the # of cantrips that can be cast before rest is needed
Anyhow, anyone actually tried it?
Yes, in a way.

We have separated cantrips into "jinxes" (i.e. "attack/damage" cantrips) and "cantrips" (non-combat).

Jinxes are usable 1 + spellcasting ability modifier per short rest.
Cantrips are at will.

Frankly, it keeps casters from spamming cantrips in combat and works well for us for nearly a year now.
 


Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Has anyone house-ruled a limitation, like 3rd edition had, on the # of cantrips that can be cast before rest is needed (e.g. limit to # known or # known + ability modifier per short rest)? Was curious to hear any positive or negatives from actual play before I consider whether to add this to our table (which seeks a grittier style of play). I know some potential areas of concern from reading are:
  • Warlocks. I'm planning on adopting Level Up's version of the Warlock, which currently turns Eldritch Blast from a cantrip to a class feature. Wonderful idea imo and resolves this concern.
  • Lesser-used cantrips. Some of the more trivial cantrips may never get used, like mending or prestidigitation, as casters save their slots for combat.
  • Scaling for higher level play (as the number doesn't increase but reliance might in order to save big spells for big occasions).
  • Tracking. Just another # to track. And if we make it too low, hoarding. If we make it too high, what's the point.
Anyhow, anyone actually tried it?
Nope. I'm more in the camp of allowing not only whatever is in the phb but brewing up other options that wouldn't be balanced if I just ran things like the phb and dm guide suggests, all I do is scale up the encounters I give them. In fact I have a reputation for difficult encounters and normally dropping at least one player, everything is increments of 5% it's not half as hard as GMs make it out to be, to change all the math from scratch.
 


Not to be negative, but overall I'm not a fan. That said, I have seen:
  • Proficiency bonus cantrips per short rest.
  • Double 1st level spells as cantrips per long rest.
Since I don't really care for the idea of limiting cantrips I can't really speak towards how effective the rules were. They both felt about the same to me, which is to say like casters were less... well, just less. But that was kind of the design goal. Ultimately people just stuck with light crossbows, and it kind of felt like it didn't matter much except to make Dex even better. I just always played a martial character in those two campaigns (run by the same DM).

It made more sense in the second campaign because it was a "magic is dying" storyline, but in the end the only full caster was a Valor or Sword Bard. So to me it felt like it just discouraged players from taking caster classes.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
Yes, in a way.

We have separated cantrips into "jinxes" (i.e. "attack/damage" cantrips) and "cantrips" (non-combat).

Jinxes are usable 1 + spellcasting ability modifier per short rest.
Cantrips are at will.

Frankly, it keeps casters from spamming cantrips in combat and works well for us for nearly a year now.
Have you noticed an increased reliance on crossbows and darts? Just curious.

In the beginning of 5th edition I made a warlock with a crossbow but eventually ditched it when I realized I wasn't going to need it.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Does that increase the the net enjoyment at your table?
Yes, it did, because we wanted a less "common" magic" game. And casters spamming attack/damage cantrips all the time made magic seem too mundane. Swinging a sword is mundane, throwing wizard's fire shouldn't be.

Did unlimited cantrips detract from the players without cantrip?
Yeah, we all found it annoying with the pew-pew all the time.

Who was harmed, and is the table as a whole happier now - without having to change choices of classes.
LOL I love how you make this out to be some sort of travesty! Who was harmed? oh, the horror!

Yes, as I wrote in my initial post about it, we LIKE it with less spamming cantrips. :)

Have you noticed an increased reliance on crossbows and darts? Just curious.
No, but the clerics use weapons more, the druids fight more with wildshape, and wizards are using other spells instead of spamming cantrips in combat. And the best thing is it forces them to be more selective about their spell use.

In the beginning of 5th edition I made a warlock with a crossbow but eventually ditched it when I realized I wasn't going to need it.
And that's the problem.

When I was running frostmaiden, we had a cleric who carried around a mace and after a few sessions (due to spamming cantrips all the time) the player tossed it into the lake one session. Her mace was only 1d6+2 (for STR), while her cantrip did 1d8 or d12 (toll the dead) and was more likely to deal damage. Once she got Potent Spellcasting, and was double 2d8+4 or 2d12+4, forget about it!
 


DeviousQuail

Adventurer
I've tried a couple different approaches (briefly) with limited cantrips. The first one was using wands or other implements and a charge system. The wands could only be recharged with spell slots so casters used them the most but you could hand off a wand to the fighter if you wanted. The second was a loose exhaustion mechanic. The assumption being that during a fight you can use your cantrips as you see fit and no need to track anything. Outside of combat you risked exhaustion levels if you used cantrips too much. The main goal for this was to limit guidance spamming and shenanigans with mold earth. Both approaches were fine but my table didn't feel like making those permanent changes.

Also, I'd like to see interesting alternatives to Eldritch Blast so its not so much of a one-trick attack class.
I made a warlock variant that made Eldritch Blast a class feature with it's own set of invocations that didn't come from the same pool as other invocations. You picked an EB variation at levels 2, 5, 11, and 17. Each variation was similar to the invocations that already exist for EB but had two options to pick from each time you used it. The +Cha damage one was baked into basic EB feature.

  • Wave: EB attack or Dex save against everyone in a 15ft cube
  • Push: EB attack and target is pushed 10ft or EB attack and Str save or pushed 20ft
  • Pull: same as push but in the other direction
  • Siphon: EB and get Cha mod worth of THP if you hit or EB and Con save to get THP equal to half damage dealt
  • Spear: EB but double range or EB quadruple range but half damage
  • Confounding: EB and Int save to avoid speed reduction or EB and Wis save or be deafened
You could only use one variation when using the feature each turn and targets got advantage on saves after the first one if you hit them multiple times.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I get the idea, that magic is a limited resource, but as others said, limiting it is un-fun for the magic user.
I can see where for some it might be (as other posters have noted), but frankly I don't want every combat to look like the Fourth of July with fireworks going off every place all the time.

"When magic becomes mundane, it ceases to be magical."
-me

That is just the way I, and fortunately for me, my group, feels about it. Luckily we found a simple solution that works for us.

For players who need RAW cantrips to keep the fun, that's cool for them. :)
 

Cruentus

Explorer
The group in my campaign, when we agreed pre-campaign and in session zero, that there would be more than "hack and slash" and it would be "low magic" all decided to play some type of spellcaster.

Needless to say, Cantrips were a big source of removing various adventuring challenges - low light = light spell, etc. In addition, the Cantrips became a way to save resources. Quote one player "Don't waste your spells on these guys, save them up for something bigger. Use Cantrips." So every time they encountered something challenging, they were able to alpha whatever it was. Between the Warlock (Imp familiar), Twilight Cleric, regular Cleric, and Evoker, it was quite the Cantrip spam experience.

For my next game, I'll either be doing one of three things:
1) Playing Beyond the Wall
2) Limiting Cantrips to Proficiency Bonus + Ability Score per long rest (I've moved everything to long rests lately)
3) Play a magic system (home brewed) that allows much more magic access and casting flexibility, but at a chance of spell failure (i.e. rolls to cast), just like a fighter who has to roll to hit, the wizards and clerics can do the same for their magic.
 

I get it. And your game your table and seems like your table is having fun, so all is good. Having played every version since Holmes, I do not fondly remember being a first level wizard with one or two magic missiles per day and waiting all for the key moment to unleash them (or sleep if you went that route). And ten if you lived to high level being so much more powerful than the other characters that their only job was to keep you from your spell casting being interrupted while you did all the damage.

Unlimited cantrips are one way to balance the classes. Maybe not the best, but easy to calculate and keep in line.
 

I played back in AD&D and AD&D 2nd before there were cantrips. If you weren't casting a slot you were throwing darts or firing a crossbow. It didn't feel very magical.

Cantrips let a pure caster feel like a caster. You can do minor magical things all the time without using up slots, and even when you are in combat you have things to do once your slots are consumed or you want to save them for future encounters.

Taking them away is a big flavor issue.

Your memory is a bit faulty there. Cantrips were in AD&D. They were introduced in 1st Ed Unearthed Arcana and were a part of the 2nd Ed PHB.

As for the topic, I will say that the worst thing they kept from 4E was At-Will powers, especially cantrips. I have looked into trying different systems, but so many players are so used to it that it is hard to deal with their whining about losing them. If I got serious, it would probably be Proficiency Bonus number of uses per cantrip per long rest. And a short rest would give them back one use of each, while using the DMG suggestion of not more than two short rests per long rest benefiting the party.
 

I've wondered how this is going to work for Dark Sun in particular.

I didn't play 4e at all, let alone in the DS setting, so the idea of an Athas where the rare and widely hated arcane casters have infinite spammable cantrips is going to take a while to get my head around. There's some cantrips that could pass as psionics i suppose (so long as another psionicist or caster isn't nearby and able to tell the difference). Vicious Mockery, Mold Earth, Message, Mind Sliver, Mage Hand, Friends, Blade Ward and the like could all be telepathic or telekinetic manifestations, and you could make a case for things like Poison Spray as biometabolism.

But there's just so damn many cantrips flying around in 5e. How do you in-world justify the fear and hatred of arcane spellcasters in an edition where magic is so much more common across all classes? And it's not just cantrips. I mean, stereotypically back in the 2e era the magic-hating barbarian was a very common trope, but now I'd guess more than half of the barbarian subclasses we have get some sort of quasi-magical ability along the way somewhere, from summoning flumphs to growing a tail. The mechanics of the current edition just don't support that sort of magic-suspicious world setting very well without a major rewrite.

I'd be happy, for instance, giving arcane spellcasters light armour proficiency and maybe a martial weapon or two (psionic wild talents can level the playing field in Athas too) in exchange for a hard mechanical enforcement of the preserving/defiling system (preserving is hard but sustainable, defiling is easy but ruins the world forever). But with so many spellcasters running around now (hell, even BARDS are primary spellcasters who can get 9th level slots now), and with the plethora of subclasses even of non-traditionally magic classes who get spellcasting, running a low-magic setting in 5e without major surgery to the class list is a hard thing to do.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I get it. And your game your table and seems like your table is having fun, so all is good. Having played every version since Holmes, I do not fondly remember being a first level wizard with one or two magic missiles per day and waiting all for the key moment to unleash them (or sleep if you went that route). And ten if you lived to high level being so much more powerful than the other characters that their only job was to keep you from your spell casting being interrupted while you did all the damage.
Yeah, I played through those days as well (never 4E though). I remember casting my one sleep spell and then throwing daggers, etc. But the trade off was (if I survived) I knew the power my M-U would have later on. Once I reached 5th level, I didn't feel like I was restricted anymore, but maybe that was just my experience.

Often I hear people complain about the QWLF issue. Frankly, I never saw it or felt it in the decades of playing AD&D. No one ever had an issue with it because we understood d4 hp and low spells meant power later on vs. d10 hp and kill stuff vs. still d10 hp and kill stuff later on. :)

Unlimited cantrips are one way to balance the classes. Maybe not the best, but easy to calculate and keep in line.
No, certainly not the best way IMO, but I understand more people like it than not, and would rather have it than not.

I just sort of find it amusing when I explain about how we play our game, and people seem to think it makes it "less fun" for us. If it was less fun, we wouldn't change it. 🤷‍♂️

Anyway, thanks for expressing your views.
 

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