Level Up (A5E) Spells that would ruin the world

TYP

Villager
Long time player, first time poster, at least here.

I'm starting up an A5E campaign, and am very excited about the many improvements. However, one of the things I'm not looking forward to is the Alter Self spell, which for my money, is one of the most broken spells in the game. My personal vendetta against Alter Self began with a player whose sorcerer would use it, along with a Hat of Disguise, to gain total impunity to consequences for his actions. The hat was always activated, leading to strings of saving throws from NPCs observing his crimes, and when he'd get in a pickle he'd use Alter Self to avoid the guards. I was trying to run a low-ish magic game, so I didn't want guards walking around with items that cast Detect Magic, not least because enterprising parties would would soon lay their hands on such an item and further unbalance the game.

To me, it seems like Alter Self and Disguise self would be the favorite spells of sex offenders and general a-holes, and I shiver to think of a world where that kind of magic would be available. Looking at T&T, the A5E Hat of Disguise is only 250 gp. 250 gp!?! I shiver to think what the spoiled noble sons of the A5E would would get up to with that kind of magic.

So, what spells have you encountered that, if used by actual people, would lead to unexpected and horrific effects?
 

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Faolyn

(she/her)
To me, it seems like Alter Self and Disguise self would be the favorite spells of sex offenders and general a-holes, and I shiver to think of a world where that kind of magic would be available. Looking at T&T, the A5E Hat of Disguise is only 250 gp. 250 gp!?! I shiver to think what the spoiled noble sons of the A5E would would get up to with that kind of magic.
On the plus side, that would make for a really good villain for the PCs to track.
 

Stalker0

Legend
so just noting, if your going for a low magic game, probably best not to have magic items that produce at-will effects:)

So I don't know about ruin in terms of absolutely destroy, but here's just a couple when taken to their logical conclusion can create a variety of problems or at least would greatly change the landscape of a game.

Blood-writ Bargain: Its a ritual, meaning even just one caster with it could do 30-40 castings a day as a full time job. With the power enforced by this spell, you would imagine a lot of deals and pacts would be sealed this way. It would lead to the erosion of "using your word" to finish deals, afterall, why trust in a person when you can get angels to enforce good behavior?

Calculate: This gives you early computer levels of mathematical power. A caster with this spell can do the math in seconds that it would take the greatest math genius to ever live an 1 hour to do....that is actually obscenely fast. A cabal of casters with this simple cantrip could be crunching the numbers done in like 1960's society with computing.

Continual Flame - the classic economy breaker, its a spell with continuous use over several generation, should assume that any city reasonable resources should be awash in light. Its basically a better lightbulb than the lightbulb.

Detect Poison and Disease: though LU did nerf it a bit, ultimately its a 1st level ritual, meaning any community with a cleric should have this spell on tap. Plagues should be far weaker in most communities, feeling ill....swing by the cleric, and he will immediately know if your sick and should be quarantined.

Fabricate: The other common economy killer. A wizard with tool proficiency in this spell would drive any regular artisan out of business, unless the artison is exceptionally skilled and can beat out quantity with quality. Any wizard with this ability should be able to become ludicrously rich unless you want to have a guild intervene and setup an entire plotline outside of your core game.

Speak with Dead: Imagine picking the brains of the greatest minds for thousands of years after their dead. Learning the murderers of many crimes with a single spell. The unlimited nature of this spell makes it incredible abusable if you push it.

Wall of Stone: In 10 minutes you can create ~40 tons of stone anywhere you want. Beyond just fashioning massive stone structures with ease, you can create your own insta quarry, with super easy to access stone right near your market. Completely changes the mining industry in seconds.
 

Well dang, @Stalker0 hit the three I was going to say and then some. My rule of thumb for settings that make use of magics that have permanent effects is to set a 1 year time-limit followed by faster than normal decay. Build all the stone structures you want but eventually you'll be spending your days on upkeep instead of making something new.

As for creepy nobles disguising themselves, it does sound like the plot of a magical police tv show. The locals may not be able to do anything about it but someone with power should eventually take notice. Perhaps an order of knights who hunt down those that abuse magic in their ruler's lands?
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I would make casters with this level of power sufficiently rare that any who choose to use it for crass commercial purposes are constantly mobbed and have a waiting list a mile long. Wizards aren't generally known for their entrepreneurial skills.

Of course, a solid partnership with someone who is good at that sort of thing could be the basis for a very unusual campaign...
 

Stalker0

Legend
I would make casters with this level of power sufficiently rare that any who choose to use it for crass commercial purposes are constantly mobbed and have a waiting list a mile long. Wizards aren't generally known for their entrepreneurial skills.
But the question is....do you really? Aka are there no real 7th level spellcasters in your game? Because if there are....why wouldn't they do this?

That's always the question. As a DM we don't normally think about those things. We want to challenge our party, we cough up a magic user. But as soon as you've thrown a few mid tier casters like this out in the world, it becomes a bigger world building question. Many games just flat out ignore it, which is fine. But if you do try to incorporate thigns like that in the world building....things can get skewed very quickly.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
To me, it seems like Alter Self and Disguise self would be the favorite spells of sex offenders and general a-holes, and I shiver to think of a world where that kind of magic would be available.
So the world you make either has this problem as an epidemic or it doesn't. If it does, I guess the natural consequence is magical task forces hunting those people down. Or your world doesn't have an alter-self sex offender epidemic (which is what we assume, because who wants that?) and it's not a problem.
 

TYP

Villager
I had a player that used Fabricate in annoying ways; for instance, to make a taco cart (literally) as his way of helping the column of refugees he was supposed to be escorting out of a warzone. He was a friend, but didn't know how to manage tone well. I like DeviousQuail's suggestion about the limited durability of magically created objects (fairy gold), and it makes me thinking that things created by the fabricate spell might be not so wonderfully constructed. Yes, you can build that bridge magically, but are you an engineer? Because what you've created will have to survive on its own in the real world of physical forces after it's created.

Stalker's point about world building is exactly what bothers me; you end up with a magical arms race that, at least for me, erodes my suspension of disbelief. I also agree with Micah's point about higher level spellcasters having other things to worry about, but it seems to me the mechanics of this have been lessened. I think we have an archetype of a wizard that spends all their time cloistered in a tower unlocking the secrets of the universe, but I don't feel like the guts of DnD, from 3rd edition on, make that a necessity. After all, PC wizards don't learn jack in a tower, they unlock their powers by fireballing orcs and robbing tombs. That is, of course, a hyperbolic characterization, but I hope the point comes across. It's up to GMs to create reasons that higher level spellcasters aren't mucking about like this, because the mechanics of the game certainly don't support it.

Though, extrapolating from the spell costs on page 351 of the Adventurer's Guide, casting a level four spell would cost around 500 gp (Remove Curse, level 3, and Seeming, level 5, are both 500 gp). Looking at the stronghold costs, you could get an acre sized rural stronghold for that much, and the equipment section says a skilled artisan charges 1 gp per day. So I guess there are other magical expenses that keep the cost of casting those spells so high.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I had a player that used Fabricate in annoying ways; for instance, to make a taco cart (literally) as his way of helping the column of refugees he was supposed to be escorting out of a warzone. He was a friend, but didn't know how to manage tone well. I like DeviousQuail's suggestion about the limited durability of magically created objects (fairy gold), and it makes me thinking that things created by the fabricate spell might be not so wonderfully constructed. Yes, you can build that bridge magically, but are you an engineer? Because what you've created will have to survive on its own in the real world of physical forces after it's created.

Stalker's point about world building is exactly what bothers me; you end up with a magical arms race that, at least for me, erodes my suspension of disbelief. I also agree with Micah's point about higher level spellcasters having other things to worry about, but it seems to me the mechanics of this have been lessened. I think we have an archetype of a wizard that spends all their time cloistered in a tower unlocking the secrets of the universe, but I don't feel like the guts of DnD, from 3rd edition on, make that a necessity. After all, PC wizards don't learn jack in a tower, they unlock their powers by fireballing orcs and robbing tombs. That is, of course, a hyperbolic characterization, but I hope the point comes across. It's up to GMs to create reasons that higher level spellcasters aren't mucking about like this, because the mechanics of the game certainly don't support it.

Though, extrapolating from the spell costs on page 351 of the Adventurer's Guide, casting a level four spell would cost around 500 gp (Remove Curse, level 3, and Seeming, level 5, are both 500 gp). Looking at the stronghold costs, you could get an acre sized rural stronghold for that much, and the equipment section says a skilled artisan charges 1 gp per day. So I guess there are other magical expenses that keep the cost of casting those spells so high.
See, I came from TSR-era D&D; my mind-set has remained in the 90s. I've always assumed that non-adventuring casters gain xp via going about their professional business (research, church duties, etc) and still earn levels, but at a much slower rate.
 

TYP

Villager
See, I came from TSR-era D&D; my mind-set has remained in the 90s. I've always assumed that non-adventuring casters gain xp via going about their professional business (research, church duties, etc) and still earn levels, but at a much slower rate.
I knew it! When I read your reply, I almost said something about recognizing someone else who played AD&D. When they pulled so many of the spell limitations, like the components, it let loose a magical plague on the land. But I guess that's what you expect from wizards.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
I knew it! When I read your reply, I almost said something about recognizing someone else who played AD&D. When they pulled so many of the spell limitations, like the components, it let loose a magical plague on the land. But I guess that's what you expect from wizards.
The limitations did help, but not because of components. Components that actually cost money are still in the game, even if the other types are handwaved. Probably the biggest limitations that were removed is the maximum number of spells that could be learned (written into your spellbook) and the chance to learn spells. While I don't think that there should be a maximum number of spells you can ever know, since that's kind of unfun and people put out new spells all the time, I kind of miss the chance to learn spell.

It wouldn't be too hard to bring back, either. Arcana check with a DC of X + the spell's level, possibly with advantage if its in a school of magic you're specialized in, possibly with disadvantage if it's an "opposing" school. Where X depends on how easy you want it to learn a new spell. And then require every wizard character to pick a school, or grouping of minor schools, to specialize in and a school or grouping of minor schools to be opposed.

I haven't actually instituted this rule yet, but if I ever get to do an "old school" game where I only have 1 or 2 spellcasting PC classes, I might--and I actually think that would be much easier to do in LU than in o5e, since Rangers and Adepts are almost entirely nonmagical and Marshalls and Savants are available as classes.

But I think what really caused the "magical plague," as you say, is something that started happening almost right away: (1) "useful" magic items that mimic everyday objects and thus begin to be seen as something that of course everyone (or at least every town) should have; (2) fairly common magic items, because +1 swords and the like were put in every adventure and module or even in every treasure hoard; and (3) the magic shop as a standard thing. Honestly, the plague started when Dragon Magazine started having the Bazzare of the Bizarre columns (and maybe before), and that was in 1e.
 

Stalker0

Legend
One thing I also miss from a narrative element is the idea that in order to cast a 5th level spell you need a minimum of 15 in your casting stat. While it rarely affected PCs, it was a solid way to curb high level spells in world building. Bottom line, when you combine the idea that not only are you a high level character (rare), and a spellcaster (rarer still), AND you happen to be a prodigy in that casting stat (super rare).... realistic those high level spells really do become exceedingly rare for a very understanding reason.


Now I will say, out of the spells I mentioned, most of the them are easily to narratively handwave. "why aren't all wizard's fabricating everything" "Oh...um....guild rules, mob enforcers, government laws...um yada yada lets move on".

The only one of those spells I have seen true concern with in game is speak with dead. I'm not a fan that LU made the spell even stronger than it already was, that spell is crazy good when you have dedicated and creative players. I basically just had to have the talk with my players that, "yes I know you can do that with the spell and cast it day after day after day...but we are just not going to do that in this game"
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
The limitations did help, but not because of components. Components that actually cost money are still in the game, even if the other types are handwaved. Probably the biggest limitations that were removed is the maximum number of spells that could be learned (written into your spellbook) and the chance to learn spells. While I don't think that there should be a maximum number of spells you can ever know, since that's kind of unfun and people put out new spells all the time, I kind of miss the chance to learn spell.

It wouldn't be too hard to bring back, either. Arcana check with a DC of X + the spell's level, possibly with advantage if its in a school of magic you're specialized in, possibly with disadvantage if it's an "opposing" school. Where X depends on how easy you want it to learn a new spell. And then require every wizard character to pick a school, or grouping of minor schools, to specialize in and a school or grouping of minor schools to be opposed.

I haven't actually instituted this rule yet, but if I ever get to do an "old school" game where I only have 1 or 2 spellcasting PC classes, I might--and I actually think that would be much easier to do in LU than in o5e, since Rangers and Adepts are almost entirely nonmagical and Marshalls and Savants are available as classes.

But I think what really caused the "magical plague," as you say, is something that started happening almost right away: (1) "useful" magic items that mimic everyday objects and thus begin to be seen as something that of course everyone (or at least every town) should have; (2) fairly common magic items, because +1 swords and the like were put in every adventure and module or even in every treasure hoard; and (3) the magic shop as a standard thing. Honestly, the plague started when Dragon Magazine started having the Bazzare of the Bizarre columns (and maybe before), and that was in 1e.
But if it wasn't for Bazaar of the Bizarre, we wouldn't have the Chainsword (it was in issue# 132).
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Prestidigitation.

The cleaning industry would -dissipate-. And I can't really express to you how huge the cleaning industry really is. "You headed for surgery, Doc? BAM! You're Sterile. No! Not that way. Well maybe, I mean it is Magic Radiation." Disease would plummet, too. Infections would drop to near 0 whether at home or in a hospital. Depending on whether it "Moves" or "Destroys" the stuff being cleaned off the other thing could also mean you can pop the hood of your car, snap your fingers, and all your lines and injectors and plugs are cleaned flawlessly. Oil? Clean and new.

No more Vacuum Cleaners, no more Dishwashers, no more body wash or shampoo. No more pore scrubs and acne from clogged pores or overactive bacteria build up.

Plus 6 second hair-dye, makeup, and hair style. Why brush your hair when you can just "Move it" perfectly straight?

Spices? Bam. Food is perfectly seasoned.

Can't remember a song? You can perfectly reproduce the musical notes that start it for everyone around you to hear instead of tone-deafingly caterwauling off-key to try and communicate it. And a skilled musician? Could perform an entire symphony or stage-show in 6 second segments.

And then there's its use in Arson. Because you can start a campfire, light a candle, or a torch.

And then there's Mending.

On it's own, it would kill the Fashion Industry's "Mass produce low quality clothing" idea 'cause people would just repair what they like with a 6 second finger snap. You'd still get seasonal fashions, but when you can bring retro back in a heartbeat? Woof. You'd be able to hit a thrift shop and find old used things and repair them with the snap of your fingers.

Buy a new car. Drive it. As you get out of the car, cast Mending. Repair all the miniscule wear and tear you've inflicted on it. Barring a catastrophic fault (Like a faulty seal or a mineral inclusion in steel) your car never needs to go to a Dealer or Mechanic, ever again. Dinged the fender? Mending. Hail cracked the windshield? Mending. Ex keyed your car? Mending.

Home repairs? HAH! mending on the squeaky board and the crack in the settling foundation. Leaky faucet? Not anymore! Venetian blinds busted? Repaired.

Cracked the screen on your cell phone? No you didn't. -Every- time you wanna upgrade to a new phone you can hand your provider a mint condition telephone for the maximum value on trade-in. Same with cars.

And for older vehicles? A mechanic can take it apart and cast mending on each individual component to make a used car like new.

And for a third spell, a first level spell? Cure Wounds.

You fall and hurt your back? Cure wounds. Your kid scrapes her knee? Cure wounds. Drunk driver side-swiped your car and your spouse is dying in your arms? Cure wounds. Mass shooter? Cure wounds. Broke your arm? Road Rash on your Face? Didn't check the circuit breaker was off before replacing a wire? Anything that isn't -instantly- fatal whether malicious or accidental: CURE WOUNDS.

Warfare? Cop afraid for his safety? Monster drives into a protest and runs people over? Cure Wounds. Almost everyone gets to go home unless it's a mafia style execution. And even then: People survive getting shot in the head, at the very least for a short time if not for the rest of their natural lives like Malala Yousafzai or Anatoli Bugorski.

Why did I pick two cantrips and a 1st level spell?

Easy. We're all Human and A5e is backward compatible. Take Variant Human and apply it to all humanity through Schooling. Everyone gets the Mystic Adept: Bard feat before they hit level 1 and/or college. We all get Prestidigitation, Mending, and Cure Wounds in place of Home Ec or Shop or some equivalent class.

-That- would "Break the World".

Cleaning Industry completely changed now that doctors, nurses, patients, anyone can clean a hospital room by wiggling their fingers. And outside of Disease and certain types of Surgery we'd never need to go to the hospital 'cause you could Cure Wounds for 1d8+Charisma once per day. Even 1 point is enough to stabilize anyone no matter how horrifically mangled they might be. And mending fixes everything in your environment a little bit, just enough to keep it going.

Our economy would need a -serious- overhaul.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
The only one of those spells I have seen true concern with in game is speak with dead. I'm not a fan that LU made the spell even stronger than it already was, that spell is crazy good when you have dedicated and creative players. I basically just had to have the talk with my players that, "yes I know you can do that with the spell and cast it day after day after day...but we are just not going to do that in this game"
I was in a game that used GURPS to run a Pathfinder adventure path. At one point, we had to get a magic item that was being held in an extradimensional bank or something. The adventure assumed that we would raid the bank, defeat the golem guards and all the traps, and steal the item. Instead, we located the original owner's remains, I cast Summon Spirit, which is the GURPS equivalent of speak with dead, and--with a lawyer present--got permission to use the item for the duration of the crisis. So the bank had to honor it and we got the item.

The GM was not expecting that.
 

TYP

Villager
While I don't think that there should be a maximum number of spells you can ever know, since that's kind of unfun and people put out new spells all the time, I kind of miss the chance to learn spell.
I also miss that, and should bring it back in my next proper campaign. I also think you can limit the number of spells a wizard has on hand without limiting the total known. I'm thinking of the spell books in Pillars of Eternity, and having players keep their spells in actual books, with a limit to the number of spells in a book, and needing more powerful and expensive books for higher level spells. So a wizard would have to choose which books to bring with them and which to keep in their library. Of course they can put them all in a bag of holding, but oof, if a monster gets their hands on it ...

Maybe too much bookkeeping for some, but an idea.

But I think what really caused the "magical plague," as you say, is something that started happening almost right away: (1) "useful" magic items that mimic everyday objects and thus begin to be seen as something that of course everyone (or at least every town) should have; (2) fairly common magic items, because +1 swords and the like were put in every adventure and module or even in every treasure hoard; and (3) the magic shop as a standard thing. Honestly, the plague started when Dragon Magazine started having the Bazzare of the Bizarre columns (and maybe before), and that was in 1e.
That wasn't my experience, but I started AD&D in the early nineties with Dark Sun of all things, so my experience is not the norm. I agree about the prevalence of magical items, and another tweak that I think could balance that out is removing magical item stores and just having crafters. Especially with the ingredients for the magical items prominently featured in the list, it's an easy way to make the party work for and earn magical gear.

I also remember a thing from Dragon years ago about how to balance magic items with low level parties, which was to give them charges. So your +1 longsword would be a regular sword until you activated it, then it would have that +1 enchantment for 10 rounds or whatever.

The only one of those spells I have seen true concern with in game is speak with dead. I'm not a fan that LU made the spell even stronger than it already was, that spell is crazy good when you have dedicated and creative players. I basically just had to have the talk with my players that, "yes I know you can do that with the spell and cast it day after day after day...but we are just not going to do that in this game"
I haven't run into that one yet, but when I do, I think some corpses will not be inclined to be cooperative as narratively necessary.

-That- would "Break the World".
Yes, to everything you said. It's why I think the cantrips cast at will is terrible. Just waiting to find players who agree.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
I also miss that, and should bring it back in my next proper campaign. I also think you can limit the number of spells a wizard has on hand without limiting the total known. I'm thinking of the spell books in Pillars of Eternity, and having players keep their spells in actual books, with a limit to the number of spells in a book, and needing more powerful and expensive books for higher level spells. So a wizard would have to choose which books to bring with them and which to keep in their library. Of course they can put them all in a bag of holding, but oof, if a monster gets their hands on it ...

Maybe too much bookkeeping for some, but an idea.


That wasn't my experience, but I started AD&D in the early nineties with Dark Sun of all things, so my experience is not the norm. I agree about the prevalence of magical items, and another tweak that I think could balance that out is removing magical item stores and just having crafters. Especially with the ingredients for the magical items prominently featured in the list, it's an easy way to make the party work for and earn magical gear.

I also remember a thing from Dragon years ago about how to balance magic items with low level parties, which was to give them charges. So your +1 longsword would be a regular sword until you activated it, then it would have that +1 enchantment for 10 rounds or whatever.


I haven't run into that one yet, but when I do, I think some corpses will not be inclined to be cooperative as narratively necessary.


Yes, to everything you said. It's why I think the cantrips cast at will is terrible. Just waiting to find players who agree.
I'm not really comfortable with at-will cantrips either. But, it is such a boon to PC power that it is very hard for players to give up.
 

ruemere

Adventurer
The general rules for making D&D magic viable in a wide world would be:
  • the efficiency of magic effect is not higher than that of a mundane counterpart.
  • the fabrication (creation, transport, assembly, construction) does not yield products superior in terms of quality or quantity.

There are a few ways to ensure this:
  • magic use requires unique talent
  • magically created items possess a trait that makes them unsuitable for everyday use
  • variant to the above: magically created items are countered or invalidated by widely available means (for example, a holy bell sound causes magic items to crumble)
  • production level output requires production levels of a limited resource (for example, limit mama in the area so that from tenth casting onwards in the area, the effect is decreased by a factor of 50%,).
 

A good friend of mine ran a campaign around a kingdom where wishing was forbidden. Because every time someone uttered a wish, it automatically came true. The wish spell is bad enough as it is. But imagine living in a world where you don't even need to cast the spell. Anyone who was having a bad day, or disliked the current ruler, could sow utter chaos. And that is exactly what happened in his campaign. It was absolute madness, but a very neat concept to explore as well. How do you stop people from completely destroying the economy, or transforming the current ruler into something unpleasant?
 

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