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Oral Lore (nonliterate wizard tradition - feedback please!)


I've been working on this subclass to flesh out a culture in my setting (goliath culture, if you want to know). These loremasters are definitely in the vicinity of bards flavorwise, but I felt that the 5E bard just doesn't have the emphasis on memory and intellect that I want. Feedback on all points is welcome, but I have two particular questions I'm especially interested in: (a) does the Chant mechanic seem like a fundamentally viable and fun replacement for the spellbook; and (b) how broken can Ritualistic Practices get and should I swap it with Loregiver as the 14th-level feature?

The following Oral Lore Arcane Tradition option is available to a wizard in addition to those offered in the Player's Handbook. A wizard must choose to take Oral Lore at 1st level rather than 2nd level when most wizards choose their Arcane Tradition.

Oral Lore
To most, wizardry is synonymous with spellbooks, but the study of arcane magic predates the art of writing. Wizards of this, the oldest arcane tradition, hail from ancient and nonliterate cultures, passing down the accumulated knowledge of magic from generation to generation by word of mouth. Rather than availing themselves of paper and ink, they rely solely on their memories, trained to prodigious capacity by sophisticated mnemonic techniques and years of practice. Foolish arcanists of other traditions deride these illiterate wizards as helpless primitives, but the wise know them as loremasters.

Rather than recording your spells in a spellbook, you memorize them in the form of a song or poem you compose known as your chant. All wizard class features that refer to a spellbook apply to your chant instead. Existing only in your mind, your chant naturally cannot be destroyed, lost, or stolen.

At 1st level, your chant contains the comprehend languages spell and six other 1st-level wizard spells of your choice. Unlike a spellbook, a chant preserves the spells it contains in a specific order, which you choose when you compose it. Each time you prepare your wizard spells, the list of prepared spells must form one continuous section of your chant.

For example, if you're a 1st-level loremaster, your chant might look like this: (1) comprehend languages, (2) identify, (3) detect magic, (4) disguise self, (5) shield, (6) magic missile, (7) sleep. With 16 Intelligence, you can prepare four spells. Your list of prepared spells could be (2) identify, (3) detect magic, (4) disguise self, (5) shield. Or it could be (4) disguise self, (5) shield, (6) magic missile, (7) sleep. Or it could be any other four spells in order from your chant. But it could not be (1) comprehend languages, (3) detect magic, (5) shield, (7) sleep.

Adding a Spell to the Chant. You can learn spells orally from other wizards who are willing to teach you, or you can find them written down during your travels. If you cast comprehend languages on written text, including a spell, the text is magically recited to you in an echo of the writer's voice, allowing you to understand it even if you cannot read. You can add a spell to your chant if it is a spell level you can prepare and if you spend the time to compose a new verse of the chant that contains it. The process takes 4 hours for each level of the spell, but unlike transcribing to a spellbook, does not cost gp. You can insert the new spell into the order of your chant at the point of your choice, at the beginning, the end, or between any two other spells.

Recomposing the Chant. You can modify the order of the chant through techniques similar to those for adding to it. If you spend 2 hours composing per spell level, you can duplicate a spell that is already in your chant at a new position. This does not immediately remove the spell from its previous position; you must spend another 2 hours per spell level to do that. Some loremasters leave copies of particularly useful spells at multiple points in their chant as "refrains," while others prefer to keep their chants pithy. There is reason to be cautious about duplication: if you prepare a section of your chant that contains the same spell more than once, the extra copies provide no additional benefit but still count against your number of prepared spells.

Eidetic Memory
By 2nd level, you have completed your training in traditional memory techniques. This training allows you to recall any information you have heard as accurately as if you had written it down, and renders you immune to effects that would modify your memory. You apply this mnemonic prowess to preserving the lore of your people. Choose one of the following skills in which you are proficient: Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion. Your proficiency bonus is doubled when making checks with that skill.

Echoes of the Chant
Starting at 6th level, you can call to mind an isolated section of your chant, casting any one spell in your chant even if it is not on your list of prepared spells. Once you have used this feature, you can't use it again until you have finished a short or long rest.

Ritualistic Practices
Starting at 10th level, when you cast a spell as a ritual, its casting time increases by 5 minutes rather than 10. You can cast any spell of 3rd level or lower that you have prepared as a ritual, even if it does not have the ritual tag.

At 13th level, you can ritually cast 4th-level spells with this feature. At 17th level, you can ritually cast 5th-level spells.

Starting at 14th level, as you prepare your wizard spells, you can teach your companions simplified versions of spells which they can cast by rote. You can teach a number of friendly characters who are able to understand you equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of one). Each character learns one spell of your choice that you prepared, and you can teach different spells to different characters. A character must be at least 5th level to learn a 2nd-level spell, 9th level to learn a 3rd-level spell, 13th level to learn a 4th-level spell, and 17th level to learn a 5th-level spell. The character can cast the spell they learned once without expending a spell slot. They can also cast the spell using any spell slots they might have. The character maintains knowledge of the spell for 24 hours or until you teach them another spell.


Gut reaction: I really like the flavour.

I'm not sure it's necessarily a fit for wizards. Historically it falls to bards, druids, or shamans to carry on oral traditions. A shaman is arguably just a storyteller version of a bard but could be argued as a cleric (knowledge domain is very suitable to the oral tradition). Druids in D&D don't match up to the role as a class but do suit your interpretation of it so that's where I would more likely put a lore-master as opposed to wizards (the musty old tome trope is hard to shake for wizards at this point too).

For any character all it really takes is a custom background like a sage variant. Give it proficiency in history and religion, probably a musical instrument, and access to a group who uses the oral tradition in order to access additional information.

For a bard, intelligence skills and expertise covers it well, possibly adding in the keen mind feat, but that applies to druids and clerics as well.

Mechanically, it seems interesting as something different from the typical wizard. Loregiver is a large increase in the number of daily spells and seems a bit much unless the intent is the wizard loses those same free slots in the exchange. Ritualistic practices is way too much. Wizards have too many utility spells that are non-rituals utility spells to be freely casting them by adding via prep. Scrap them and see if you can fill the flavour with something that doesn't add so many spells per day (my advice); it may work in your particular campaign (I don't know everything ;-) )

The chant mechanic looks viable. It removes the risk of spell book loss and adds grouped spells so I might not allow for changing the order of the listed spells so that risk factor is more of a trade off than simply removed.


Thanks for the input! In hindsight I think you're right about the overabundance of extra spell slots. I'm making a few tweaks:

Ritualistic Practices
Your oral traditions place great significance on ritual magic. Starting at 2nd level, the time you must spend to add, duplicate, or remove a spell with the ritual tag in your chant is halved. When you cast a spell as a ritual, its casting time increases by 1 minute rather than 10.

Just getting rid of the potential for craziness and dropping it all the way down to two, turning it into a straightforward analog for the Savant features.

Starting at 10th level, as you prepare your wizard spells, you can teach your companions simplified versions of spells which they can cast by rote. One character who can understand you learns a wizard spell of your choice that you have prepared. More characters can also learn a spell if you spend one spell slot per additional character you teach. You can teach different spells to different characters, but each spell slot you spend must be the same level as the spell you teach the character. A character must be at least 5th level to learn a 2nd-level spell, 9th level to learn a 3rd-level spell, 13th level to learn a 4th-level spell, and 17th level to learn a 5th-level spell. The character can cast the spell they learned once without expending a spell slot, or they can cast the spell using any spell slots they might have. The character maintains knowledge of the spell for 24 hours or until you teach them another spell. Their spellcasting ability for the spell is Intelligence.

Lowering it to level ten and making it cost spell slots. You still get one "free" teach, even though it makes the wording a little wonky, because I didn't want it to feel like a zero-sum ability.

Solemn Recitation
Reciting long sections of your chant, the endurance of a thousand generations of tradition flows from you. Starting at 14th level, when you cast a spell from your chant, you can begin a recitation. To continue the recitation, the next spell you cast must be the next spell in the order of your chant. You can cast this spell even if it is not prepared. If you cast a different spell or don't cast a spell before the end of your next turn, the recitation ends. You can continue the recitation from turn to turn by continuing to cast spells in order from your chant.
Whenever you cast a spell to continue (but not begin) a recitation, you and all friendly creatures within 30 feet who can hear you each gain 5 temporary hit points for each spell you have cast so far during the recitation. These temporary hit points overlap, rather than stacking with, any hit points gained from previous spells in the recitation. They last for 1 minute.

New 14th-level ability. I wanted to reinforce the theme that the order of your chant matters. But is it too restrictive? I imagine you're probably going to throw out some two- and occasionally three-spell combos, but longer recitations are going to be very rare.




Solemn Recitation would allow you to effectively break the concentration limit. On the other hand, flavour-wise, excluding concentration spells would fit perfectly; they are more complex and you can't just learn them "by rote".

It's not clear from your text if you intend the first use of it to be free, either - by wording, you only pay for a spell slot for additional targets... and it would work for 9th level spells. Anything that gets you - effectively - a free unbounded spell slot is a bit broken. I would limit this to 5th level spells - quite a few bits and pieces in 5e make a distinction between 1st to 5th level spells and 6th and up, and this would be natural.

I like the flavour. I think it could be a little clearer on how the chant works, mechanically - how do you use it to prepare spells, how long does it take, etc.


First, remember, 5e wizards can have spellbooks of non-sprllbook nature. See XGtE for somecexsmples.

In a recent game I ran a wizard-bard.

Her "spellbooks" were stones, carved and etched in various ways, and tuning forks or musical strikers. Her spells were "songs" or chords and her wizard spells "prepared" were "chords" she "locked in" each morning, like when a song gets stuck in her head.

For a morexstricylynoral tradition, not songs, I might go with trinkets and relics and fetishes that apply to specific tales or bits of lore that help the wizard "lock in" their mrmories.

Maybe, if its ancestral flavor, they hold a burnt cross marked with something and recount the story of their great great great saving the town by fireball.

But physical tokens keyed to spoken lore that have meaning and costly prep as a substitute for spell pages scribed seems like a simple substitution for spell books not needing a new subclass.


@ccooke I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you're saying about Solemn Recitation. It seems like you're reacting to a completely different ability. I did have a hard time finding proper wording for what I wanted, so maybe it's still unclear. Can you tell me why you think what I wrote does anything to break the normal concentration rules, or rules for casting spells using spell slots? Because it's not supposed to do either. It's supposed to reward you with temporary hit points when you cast your spells (the regular way) in a specific order, and suspend the preparation rules when casting spells in that order, and that's all.

@5ekyu Feedback along the lines of "This doesn't need to exist" is not constructive. Because I have already taken the time to write this subclass, it should be apparent that I would prefer a subclass to do this concept properly rather than a reskinning kludge. Can you respect that, please?