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[SPELLS and MAGIC] Design Discussion

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
Design Discussion
Spells and Magic


Spells

Design Goals

1) Identify and fix all “problematic” spells
a. Spells which do not allow for any random d20 roll mitigation
i. No save, no attack roll, no SR​
b. Spells that intrude on the class features of other players
i. knock vs. rogue
ii. find traps vs. rogue​
c. Spells that require too much book-keeping or book-flipping
i. alter self/polymorph/shape change
ii. summon monster
iii. dispel magic/antimagic
iv. etc.​
d. Spells that grant “absolute” effects
i. energy immunity
ii. death ward
iii. freedom of movement
iv. etc.​
e. Spells that unduly and adversely disrupt the flow and satisfaction of gameplay
i. divination/commune/contact other plane
ii. scrying
iii. teleport
iv. raise dead
f. Spells that require more than a couple of paragraphs to explain
g. Curtail the power of lower level spells by implementing caster level caps​
2) Rebalance/Reclassify all spell schools (move spells from school to school)
a. Ensure that all spells are classified according to a logical and consistent method (what makes a conjuration a conjuration; what makes an illusion an illusion)
b. Ensure that all spell schools are equally attractive and compelling for any style of play
3) Design entirely new spells to create a “master” spell list
a. “Fill in the Gaps” where the existing logical framework of spell design has room to expand
b. Do not create highly specialized spells that perform oddball functions outside the existing framework (leave those to the players to research!)
c. (see 2a and 2c above.)

1. Identify and fix all “problematic” spells.
I am seeking significant input in this category. Obviously, years of play and active forum participation have helped me to generate a significant personal list. I am looking for lists others may have made (google-fu?) and am compiling all suggestions. I would love to have a “master list” of broken spells similar to the design goals set out in the first chapter of Trailblazer.

1b. Spells that intrude on the class features of other players
Such spells should operate more like find traps than knock: grant the ability to use the relevant skill and a bonus to that skill (scaled to the level of the spell and the caster level).

1d. Spells that grant “absolute” effects
Nominations are open for DMs to call out the spells that “trump” their “set pieces.”

Note that this is a two-pronged consideration. Is the spell problematic from a game balance standpoint? Or it is problematic because it is a danger to verisimilitude?

On that note, we strongly encourage the creative use of spells to “trump” the mundane and even the magical. We do not condone the use of spells to “trump” set pieces of truly epic magnitude. For example, a wizard should not be able to cast fly, iron body, and energy immunity in order to travel through space and spend an afternoon picnicking on the surface of the sun. Indeed, it is less of a strain on verisimilitude to envision immunity to magic than it is to envision immunity to the most extreme forces of the natural physical world.

As an example of our thinking here, death ward is problematic primarily from a game balance standpoint: it grants immunity to magical death effects. It is not particularly problematic with regards to verisimilitude, as there is no “epic” source of death magic in the natural world.

1e. Spells that unduly and adversely disrupt the flow and satisfaction of gameplay
I believe most of these spells can be fixed primarily by making them rituals, which will limit their use to 1/day without action points.

1f. Spells that require more than a couple of paragraphs to explain
Admittedly, I have a pretty short hit list here. I’m thinking at the moment of magic circle against evil and its many incarnations, depending on how you want to use it. My inclination in this specific case would be to move the “summoner’s trap” function directly into the Spellcraft skill (excising it entirely from the spell description).

That example aside, the basic design philosophy is this: No spell in the game should have a function within (and integration with) the rules that requires more than a couple of paragraphs to explain. It’s a red flag for a spell that tries to do too much or is poorly integrated into the existing mechanics.

1g. Curtail the power of lower level spells by implementing caster level caps
This function of game design is best evidenced in the evocation spells. 1st level spells have a “caster level” cap of 5 dice, no matter how high your caster level; 3rd level spells have a “caster level” cap of 10 dice, no matter how high your caster level; and so on.

I find this to be excellent game design. While not completely invalidating the utility of the low level spell slots, it does mean that those spells will start to fall off in utility at higher levels.

The same thing happens with spells like sleep and deep slumber, and even cloudkill and circle of death, which have hard HD caps on their effectiveness.

It is worth specifically contrasting the level-capped spells against abjuration spells like resist energy. Rather than fall off in utility, resist energy gets more powerful at 7th (resist 20) and again at 11th level (resist 30). Ditto for shield of faith and others. The practical effect is that as a caster increases in level, the utility of his lowest level spell slots will start to invariably shift to defense, leaving his highest level spells for offense.

I will be carefully re-assessing that (deliberate?) design direction and listening to feedback.

2a. Rebalance/Reclassify all spell schools (move spells from school to school)
I’m not going to go into great detail on this design goal in this preliminary post (it will appear in greater detail in a subsequent post).

Suffice to say, the classification of spells is all over the map, giving it an appearance that it is completely arbitrary. I will be defining very strict guidelines for classifying spells into the various schools—and sticking to them. In some cases, this will entail some rather significant changes (moving healing away from conjuration and back to necromancy, for example.)

Concurrent with this effort will be the creation of such additional descriptors as are necessary to create a logical and consistent rules framework that will actually expand the design space ([life] and [death], [shadow] and [light], [extraplanar], [curse], etc.)

2b. Ensure that all spell schools are equally attractive and compelling for any style of play
As an example of what I mean here, it should be possible to play a dungeon-delving or battle-focused Divination specialist (as opposed to the usual cloistered bookworm); this effort will require the creation of highly desirable spells that offer insight bonuses, for example: to hit, to AC, to initiative, etc. including new design space such as bonus combat reactions.

3. Design entirely new spells to create a “master” spell list
3a. “Fill in the Gaps” where the existing logical framework of spell design has room to expand
As a low-hanging example here, consider the 0-level spell, resistance. It grants a +1 bonus to your saving throw within a minute. Fine. But there is no spell that grants a scaling resistance bonus to saving throws (analogous to shield of faith, for example). There is room for a higher level resistance spell that grants a +1 bonus per 3 caster levels. The existence of such a spell would go a long way towards obviating the need for one of the Big Six items (cloak of resistance).

For this effort, I will be primarily using the design work I laid down in Heroes of High Favor: Elves, which included in the appendix an attempt to classify all spell functions by school and level, all within a consistent rules framework.

As an aside, we are strongly considering following the lead of Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed spells, and providing both a diminished and heightened effect for every spell.

3b. Do not create highly specialized spells that perform oddball functions outside the existing framework (leave those to the players to research!)
Most spells have obvious, existing “hooks” onto the existing rules framework: bonuses, penalties, bonus actions, resistances, interactions with various monster types, and so forth. However, some spells have important functions that don’t have any “hooks” into the existing rules framework. A good example here is sending:

Sending
Evocation
Level: Clr 4, Sor/Wiz 5 Components: V, S, M/DF Casting Time: 10 minutes Range: See text Target: One creature Duration: 1 round; see text Saving Throw: None Spell Resistance: No

You contact a particular creature with which you are familiar and send a short message of twenty-five words or less to the subject. The subject recognizes you if it knows you. It can answer in like manner immediately. A creature with an Intelligence score as low as 1 can understand the sending, though the subject’s ability to react is limited as normal by its Intelligence score. Even if the sending is received, the subject is not obligated to act upon it in any manner.

If the creature in question is not on the same plane of existence as you are, there is a 5% chance that the sending does not arrive. (Local conditions on other planes may worsen this chance considerably.)

Now, sending is an important spell—it’s used all the time as campaigns move from mid-levels into higher level play and the PCs find themselves pulled in many directions, acting as agents for various powers-that-be. But notice how few “hooks” the spell has into the existing rules framework: Outside of the header statblock, there’s a reference to the Intelligence of the receiving target, and that’s it.

To describe sending as an oddball spell is not to demean its vital role in the game; that being said, this is not the kind of spell that we’ll look to create for our master spell list. Our recommendation to DMs is to allow new spells only if they perform outside functions like sending; for all the other needs of players (the buffs, attack spells, and so forth) the DM should refer his players to the master list. We’ll cover all those bases and do so in a mechanically balanced way.

Further posts on this thread will expand on some of the above design goals (showcasing, for example, the school rebalance and some of the new spells) but the thread is open for discussion on the design goals.
 
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crazy_cat

Explorer
The initial post is an excellent read - looking forward to the discussions taht will follow. One thing, it would be much easier to read if it wasn't black text on the standard black ENWorld background.
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
The initial post is an excellent read - looking forward to the discussions taht will follow.
Don't just be a spectator-- let me know what you think.

One thing, it would be much easier to read if it wasn't black text on the standard black ENWorld background.
Ah! I read in Stealth mode (white bkgd) and didn't even think of that. I was trying to get the indents to display the same color as the rest of the text.

I'll back that out.

Thanks!

EDIT: Better?
 
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BryonD

Villager
This is an excellent mission statement. But it is a bit overwhelming for a thread.

May I suggest that you start additional threads on smaller pieces and link back to this for the larger context? For example, you could have a thread on "spells that intrude on other classes" and maintain a summary in the initial post, while discussion is below it.
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
This is an excellent mission statement. But it is a bit overwhelming for a thread.

May I suggest that you start additional threads on smaller pieces and link back to this for the larger context? For example, you could have a thread on "spells that intrude on other classes" and maintain a summary in the initial post, while discussion is below it.
My thought was to take it a piece at a time.

Is there any comment on the mission statement? Anything to redirect me or focus me on, or away, from anything listed there?

Once the mission statement is set, I can get more and more specific, and that can certainly take place in other threads if that's easier for folks to follow. (I can always merge them later for posterity.)
 

BryonD

Villager
Is there any comment on the mission statement?
I expect to disagree with a large percentage of the time here.
You know me, I think the spell should work the way you would describe it in a novel and it is then the jobs of the mechanics + the DM, with support from the players to make it work. Sacrificing the story for smoother mechanics should be done with great hesitancy. and weeping.

A lot of your issues do run hand in hand with my preferences. Scry/Teleport/Nuke is not a fantasy cliche. But clever reasons why the mechanics push that away are far preferable to blunt refusals. I think strong focus on setting and immersion as a forte of design helps solve this kind of problem better than mathematical system mastery.
 

booboo

Villager
I know magic is treated like a science i would like to see it seem a bit more mystical. I know it really isn't that helpful of a statement but oh well. Also I'm all fore nitch protection. but pleas don't make magic missiles an attack roll I id even rather see it bee a saving throw.
 

joela

Villager
reaction

Lot of good stuff here and, as the above poster said, a lot to digest. I'll start reviewing the Spells section of the SRD and get back to you.

BTW, did you want input on what spells we think should be Rote, Rite, or Rituals?
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
I know magic is treated like a science i would like to see it seem a bit more mystical. I know it really isn't that helpful of a statement but oh well. Also I'm all fore nitch protection. but pleas don't make magic missiles an attack roll I id even rather see it bee a saving throw.
Magic missile is fine. It's a very, very good spell.

BTW, did you want input on what spells we think should be Rote, Rite, or Rituals?
All input is welcome.

Note that Rote and Restricted are already mechanically defined; spells that fall under Ritual should certainly be called out as that generally indicates a problem spell.
 

ValhallaGH

Villager
EDIT: Better?
Much better, thanks.

The mission statement seems solid, excepting a few editing errors (2c? What 2c?). Ambitious but solid.
The example of sending really helps clarify your meanings and goals for section 3; I appreciate that.

Restoring Positive / Negative energy manipulation to Necromancy is a Good Thing(TM).


My issue with redoing spells like Death Ward is that characters that are mathematically immune to death effects still die one in twenty times. That's a damnably annoying rate when taking a level 24 paladin up against a dozen level 13 drow clerics. Action points help but I'd like a spell like Death Ward to help as well.
Possibly such effects could simply prevent a natural 1 from being automatic failure; no immunity but you lose the automatic-failure aspect, which is a freaking awesome benefit.
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
Quick reply:

I'm not sure Death Ward is a problem, but it IS an absolute, and provided for that reason. What I perhaps should have said above is that IF Death Ward is a problem, it is only so mechanically, and not because it poses a threat to verisimilitude.
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager

Elodan

Explorer
Count me as in favor of heightened and diminished versions of spells; favorite part of Arcana Evolved.
 

BryonD

Villager
Curtail the power of lower level spells by implementing caster level caps
TRUE SEEING. It shuts down an Entire School of magic if you have it.
There seems to be some synergy here.
I personally don't have a problem with the core idea of True Seeing being ROCK to Illusion's SCISSORS. Particularly considering it is a 5th level cleric spell. Taking out a 6th level spell with a 5th level spell that is intended to do just that, is cool. And a 7th level spell, frankly and imho, is also completely fair. 8th level? Well, pretty far off in subjective land of course, but for me, I'd think an 8th level spell might reasonably get a fair shake at shrugging off the 5th level counter. And 9th level should have a very solid chance of ignoring it.

So perhaps some sort of opposed check is in order. Just as a starting point I'm thinking opposed caster level checks with a modifier of +5 / spell level going to the higher level spell.

I think this could be a very simple back pocket rule for every case in which two spells come into conflict. Just having this kind of mechanic in place might facilitate creative spellcasting. For example, can you dispell/destroy a wall of ice with a fireball? Ok, but it an opposed CL check, with a -5 penalty. Or block a fireball with a wall of ice? How far you could go with this would depend on creativity and what the DM can accept. I think trying to flame out a wall of fire with a fireball (like putting out a burning oil well) would be clever, but using a fly to divert a fireball harmlessly away wouldn't cut it for me.

Obviously some scenarios require ready actions and may suffer lack of implementation (as counterspell often does), but others offer chances to face off against on-going effects and could be quite dynamic.

The whole thing begs to create a "wizards duel" system even.

Imagine dueling illusions in a battle whose outcome had real significance. You are a mighty warrior and you watch as sweat pours down the face of you wizard buddy while his illusionary knight goes toe-to-toe with the evil overlord's illusionary demon.

In the case of something like True Seeing, a +15 bonus is applied to appropriate checks.
 

Wulf Ratbane

Villager
There seems to be some synergy here.
I personally don't have a problem with the core idea of True Seeing being ROCK to Illusion's SCISSORS. Particularly considering it is a 5th level cleric spell. Taking out a 6th level spell with a 5th level spell that is intended to do just that, is cool. And a 7th level spell, frankly and imho, is also completely fair. 8th level? Well, pretty far off in subjective land of course, but for me, I'd think an 8th level spell might reasonably get a fair shake at shrugging off the 5th level counter. And 9th level should have a very solid chance of ignoring it.
Globe of Invulnerability is a good model, I think, although obviously there are some functional differences. (And Abjuration is just generally better at trumping every other school, at least defensively.)

I like to think that Divination and Illusion should trump each other, with the higher level spell simply winning out. There are quite a few such opposing relationships already evident in the SRD spell list.

So perhaps some sort of opposed check is in order. Just as a starting point I'm thinking opposed caster level checks with a modifier of +5 / spell level going to the higher level spell.
If I can make it automatic and yet balanced, I think I'd prefer that.

I think this could be a very simple back pocket rule for every case in which two spells come into conflict. Just having this kind of mechanic in place might facilitate creative spellcasting. For example, can you dispell/destroy a wall of ice with a fireball? Ok, but it an opposed CL check, with a -5 penalty. Or block a fireball with a wall of ice? How far you could go with this would depend on creativity and what the DM can accept. I think trying to flame out a wall of fire with a fireball (like putting out a burning oil well) would be clever, but using a fly to divert a fireball harmlessly away wouldn't cut it for me.
Hmm... I guess I need to decide how much "new mechanic" stuff should go into the Spells book and how much should go in the Players' Options book. I think I prefer to keep "SRD Fixes" in one kind of book and "Creative Expansions" in another. Basically trying to keep the Core stuff sequestered.
 

BryonD

Villager
Hmm... I guess I need to decide how much "new mechanic" stuff should go into the Spells book and how much should go in the Players' Options book.
I had not caught on to the distinction here.
I guess you should take every comment I offer and insert:

"For the player's options book...."

There are certainly times when static A trumps B is appropriate.
(for GoI it is a 6th level spell that only effects 4th or lower. So you give it the same +15 as true seeing and now even an 11th level caster will stop 4th level spells from a 20th level caster 97.5% of the time. The spell still works as advertised)
But any time it works, dynamic conflicts are cool.

It even offers some new design space. A metamagic feat being low hanging fruit, but other feats, spells, whatever could be cool if done right.

Are you really not at all intrigued by the wizard's duel and spell conflict idea?
 

booboo

Villager
what about utility of spells vs. sells of the same level, like at first level you have on one side Magic Missile, Sleep, Ray of Enfeeblement the other side you have Burning Hands, Shocking Grasp, Chill Touch the one group of spells seem to have much more utility than the other or is it just me but at every level it seems to happen quite often.
 

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