D&D General Thinking about Cantrips (building from 3.5/PF/4e/5e/A5E)

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
So, thinking about Cantrips for a world that isn't designed to be too magical (say spells cap out at 3rd or 4th level usually and magic isn't directly widely integrated into day to day life of most people to the point that stereotypical medieval level tech and commerce seems strange to have)...
  • In 3.5 the cantrips include mending (1 action to cast), light (10 min/level duration), mage hand, and acid splash (d3 damage). Wizards get 3 or 4 a day. Sorcerers get 5 or 6 a day. They're just like other spells as far as learning/knowing and casting.

  • In Pathfinder Wizards prepare 3 or 4 a day, but get an unlimited number of uses. Sorcerers know 4 to 9 and get an unlimited number of uses. Mending now takes 10 minutes to cast.

  • In 4e the four Wizard cantrips are Ghost Sound, Light (5 minutes, only one at a time), Mage Hand, and Prestidigitation, and they are unlimited in number per day.

  • 5e is similar to PF in that Wizards get 3-5 (Sorcerers 4-6) and both have an unlimited number of uses. Mending takes 1 minute, Light lasts 1 hour, and acid splash does d6 to up to two creatures nearby each other (firebolt does d10 to one).
In PF, 4e, and 5e, the cantrips have the unified idea of the things the wizard knows well enough to just do. (Whereas in 3.5 they're just adding a 0-level to the usual Vancian thing). The power level of the three with actual cantrips seems to go 4e < PF < 5e.

It feels odd to me to be able to cast any of them for hours on end with no side effect. I mean, sure, the warrior can do that with sword swings, but I don't picture a market for that like there might be for light spells or mending. And for the more potent firebolt or acid splash, it doesn't seem to fit with a lot of the inspirational fiction I'm used to.

What if the cantrips used something like the exertion pool that martial characters use to power combat maneuvers in A5e?

To use a combat maneuver, you must expend exertion points. You have a maximum number of exertion points equal to double your proficiency bonus* You regain any spent exertion points at the end of a short or long rest. Alternatively, you can meditate, refocus, and stretch to refill your exertion pool more quickly. You expend Hit Dice* to do so, recovering 1d4 exertion points for each Hit Die expended. The process takes 1 minute per expended Hit Die.

[* For the non-5e'ers: In 5e proficiency bonus is +2 at 1st, +3 at 5th... + 6 at 17th, you have a number of hit dice equal to your level and can use them to heal during short rests].

How does it feels for casters to have a rechargeable exertion pool for casting cantrips? If not horrible for a start, what modifications would you add on to that?
  • Giving more exertion points based on the casters ability bonus for their main casting ability, so maybe twice the spell attack modifier (proficiency bonus + ability modifier)?

  • As the caster levels, gradually being able to add 1st level spells to the cantrip list?

  • If you had a strife, fatigue, or exhaustion like system, letting them spend a level of that to get them back?
 
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Smackpixi

Adventurer
I feel like the cantrip is to give basic combat utility of a crossbow. It has problematic outside effects, imagine level one dick wizards wandering town and minor illusioning all day. So long as caster has basic combat utility and doesn’t have to club anyone with a staff, nerf all you want.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
D&D might not be 90% combat (though don't quote me on that), but the idea behind cantrips being usable at-will seems to be. As I see it, they're meant to give spellcasters an unlimited attack option like martials have, with a few non-combat utility features being thrown in for good measure.

If the issue is with non-combat cantrips possibly having unintended consequences with regard to worldbuilding (e.g. no one needs lamplighters in a world where wizards et al can use light at will), the easiest solution seems to be to bump them up to level 1 spells. Same for the higher-end damage cantrips, which seem like they wanted to give wizards combat options akin to martials using heavier weapons (and which I suspect some people have flavor issues with, in that feeling like something that infringes on the martials' niche protection).
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
I am not troubled by unlimited cantrips, but an easy change would be to require concentration for any lingering effects, including light. It becomes much simpler to manage than exertion points and means that any spellcaster can only have one effect going at any given time.

Concentration then represents some minimal level of exertion. More than that will discourage players form choosing casters. If that's your goal, then fine. It is not clear from your post if your players are actually causing any problems, or if this is just a worldbuilding concern. Player fun matters.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I am not troubled by unlimited cantrips, but an easy change would be to require concentration for any lingering effects, including light. It becomes much simpler to manage than exertion points and means that any spellcaster can only have one effect going at any given time.

Concentration then represents some minimal level of exertion. More than that will discourage players form choosing casters. If that's your goal, then fine. It is not clear from your post if your players are actually causing any problems, or if this is just a worldbuilding concern. Player fun matters.

I hadn't thought of the concentration idea in some cases. That and casting time can do quite a bit.

Part of it is that the flavor just feels off to me from all the 1e/2e/3.5 years - and the damage jump seems big compared to PF.

Thank you for the thoughts!
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
The thing about cantrips is that it's one place where D&D actually tries to acknowledge the genre instead of trying to be it's own weird genre.

In most fiction, there's just some magic mages just can do, like make light, light small fires like a match, etc. D&D just doesn't know how to 1) decide how to choose what effects these should be and 2) keep these effects personal so as t keep up the illusion of 'low magic' so many legacy fan clamor for.
 

cbwjm

Legend
PF2e cantrips are even more powerful that 1e, though perhaps it balances out with 5e since they gain in power, more or less, with each slot level gained. So the cantrip electric arc deals 1d4+spellcasting mod to up to 2 targets, at level 5 this would be 3d4+spellcasting mod. There are some differences, acid splash gains in power every other increase but it also deals splash damage and if it cries it deals a small amount of persistent acid damage. You can also cast them at will as in 5e. I'm sure the damage is in line with expected numbers in PF2e but it would still fail for expected output for those that think it spellcasters shouldn't be able to continually cast them.
 

In most fiction, there's just some magic mages just can do, like make light, light small fires like a match, etc. D&D just doesn't know how to 1) decide how to choose what effects these should be and 2) keep these effects personal so as t keep up the illusion of 'low magic' so many legacy fan clamor for.
This part of cantrips is awesome.

It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Okay, I've been wondering about this for years, but I've always kept my mouth shut because I don't think I'm informed enough about the different D&D editions to make this judgment. What I've wondered--and it relates to the complaints about casters being overpowered--is the following: what would happen if the game got rid of all damage-dealing cantrips?

The way I remember it working back in the 80s was that cantrips were simple, innocuous little magics one could cast at any time and at no cost, but there weren't any available that did some actual damage during combat. If the game went back to such a model, wouldn't many of the complaints about overpowered casters kind of go away? Because in this case the martial classes really would be needed. Or am I misremembering this and damage-dealing cantrips were in there right from 1e??? I just don't recall ever seeing them, you know?
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The thing about cantrips is that it's one place where D&D actually tries to acknowledge the genre instead of trying to be it's own weird genre.

In most fiction, there's just some magic mages just can do, like make light, light small fires like a match, etc. D&D just doesn't know how to 1) decide how to choose what effects these should be and 2) keep these effects personal so as t keep up the illusion of 'low magic' so many legacy fan clamor for.

This part of cantrips is awesome.

Does 4e get that part of cantrips right? (Ghost Sound, Light, Mage Hand, and Prestidigitation?


It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.

Okay, I've been wondering about this for years, but I've always kept my mouth shut because I don't think I'm informed enough about the different D&D editions to make this judgment. What I've wondered--and it relates to the complaints about casters being overpowered--is the following: what would happen if the game got rid of all damage-dealing cantrips?

I think that's part of where I am, it's that the being able to non-stop shoot that's got me.

At present I'm mulling wizards getting: (1) something like prestidigitation at will, (2) something between the PF and 5e cantrips in some limited number - but limited by exhaustion instead of memory slots, (3) and then the other spells getting the Vancian slots. (I'm Dying Earth and some inspired works right now, so maybe it will be a fleeting position).

The way I remember it working back in the 80s was that cantrips were simple, innocuous little magics one could cast at any time and at no cost, but there weren't any available that did some actual damage during combat. If the game went back to such a model, wouldn't many of the complaints about overpowered casters kind of go away? Because in this case the martial classes really would be needed. Or am I misremembering this and damage-dealing cantrips were in there right from 1e??? I just don't recall ever seeing them, you know?

Did 1e have cantrips? Or was that one of the late 2e source books? Or did they show up in UA?
 

cbwjm

Legend
The way I remember it working back in the 80s was that cantrips were simple, innocuous little magics one could cast at any time and at no cost, but there weren't any available that did some actual damage during combat. If the game went back to such a model, wouldn't many of the complaints about overpowered casters kind of go away? Because in this case the martial classes really would be needed. Or am I misremembering this and damage-dealing cantrips were in there right from 1e??? I just don't recall ever seeing them, you know?
From what I know, that's how cantrips worked back then. Not sure this would really affect the so-called power disparity as I think it is the more powerful spells at higher levels that people cite as the main power imbalance.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I wouldnt mind combat cantrips if they'd all work like Booming Blade, Shillelagh, Produce Flame or Magic Stones, or touch spells. Meaning you can bolster your normal attacks with small magical effect. Make Flame Arrow a concentration spell good for three ranged attacks that change the damage type to fire damage, make Acid Splash the acidic equivalent of Green-Flame Blade, Frostbite could work as a touch attack similar to booming blade. Ghoul Chill Touch should be 1) a touch 2) maybe affecting all your touch attacks for 1 minute, ala Shillelagh.

I think we can agree that a wizard forced to rely on a mundane crossbow or whacking with a staff is kinda dull, but if we give the casters a way to be magical even when they must rely on less high-magic effects it would make the presence of damage cantrips less irritating.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Did 1e have cantrips? Or was that one of the late 2e source books? Or did they show up in UA?
We had them, but they weren't in the books. I remember when a hack-and-slash buddy of mine described them to me when they first came out and how excited we both were, because back then a 1e wizard had exactly one spell to cast per day, and it almost always ended up being Magic Missile.

So I'm pretty sure they were part of what has become the UA material while still in the time of 1e, because this was the 80s.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Does 4e get that part of cantrips right? (Ghost Sound, Light, Mage Hand, and Prestidigitation?
Well sort of?

I would give them a few more options in cantrips and they get away with non-damaging cantrips by giving everyone at-will attacks.

This part of cantrips is awesome.

It's the impact of unlimited ranged weapons that is off-putting to me, still after so many years of 5e. The combat cantrips "so they don't just keep using a crossbow" are more effective than any crossbow.
I mean, this wouldn't be a problem if they just made martial 'at-will' attacks better, but magic always has to one-up mundane or else it 'doesn't feel like D&D' or some other sentiment that's ruinous to the game.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
We had them, but they weren't in the books. I remember when a hack-and-slash buddy of mine described them to me when they first came out and how excited we both were, because back then a 1e wizard had exactly one spell to cast per day, and it almost always ended up being Magic Missile.

So I'm pretty sure they were part of what has become the UA material while still in the time of 1e, because this was the 80s.

It was in UA :)

1646003081741.png


and I have no recollection of there being this many!!

1646003122220.png
 



South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Sneeze and Yawn both look pretty good, IMO. Imagine making some high-powered foe sneeze right in the middle of combat; I'd take that cantrip over Unseen Servant any day.

EDIT: From a quick read, Cough looks even better.
 
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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I never really liked the 3.x& PF cantrips/Level 0 spells/orisons(?) were so weak & limited they basically never got used for anything & were pretty pointless as a result. With that said.... the 5e cantrips provide a good default attack alternative to crossbow/sling/racial weapons in a fun & thematic way but they are worse for reasons nobody has mentioned.

Specifically the fact that they scale by character level means that the actions casters do most commonly & most easily supplemented or modified with equipment is removed from what might otherwise be called loot tables. Watch the players closely while describing a treasure hoard.... martials are wide eyed & excited to hear what's in it while casters can pretty safely assume that there won't be some cool wand in it.
 


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