log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 5E What houserules would best support my campaign premise?

Grantypants

Explorer
I had an idea for what seems like a cool campaign, but I think I'd need to tweak the 5e rules a bit to make it work.

The party would be all magic-users of some kind or another, and they've teamed up to find out why certain spells have stopped working. Turns out there's a BBEG who hates magic. He's found a ritual that can make a particular spell impossible for anyone to ever cast again. The party is travelling the world trying to find this guy, but also to find new spells to replace the ones they can't cast any longer. The main gameplay loop is finding loot in the form of spells, then using those spells until they stop working, rinse, repeat.

All the PCs have to pick classes capable of casting spells, at least by level 3, where we'll start. Artificers and psionic classes are not included as options, but are likely to show up as major antagonists. The PCs can only choose from PHB spells (or maybe even only SRD spells) to start with, but spells from all kinds of other sources will show up eventually. How much would it break if I just said that, for purposes of learning and preparing spells, everyone is wizards? Classes that previously limited the number of spells a character knows now just limit the number of spells that can be prepared?
Everyone gets the equivalent of a wizard's spellbook and has to prepare spells from their list of spells known, but also can copy spells into their spellbooks when they find spells in play. Since it will be a major focus of the story, I think I'd want to make copying spells much cheaper and faster than what is currently available.

Players will be encouraged to reskin their spellbooks into something more suitable for their character, but I'll leave that in their hands. Based on what they respond with, I'll also reskin spell scrolls and the like to match. Since I'm going to be ruthless in taking spells away, I also have to be generous in doling out new spells to keep the game fair, so new spells should be reasonably common in game.

What else do I need to consider?

I'll use a random table for selecting the spells that are deleted from the world. There's a few warlock invocations that refer specifically to eldritch blast, so I might open those up to benefit any warlock cantrip, in case eldritch blast is deleted. Other class features that refer to particular spells might be changed the same way.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Quickleaf

Legend
"Things go wrong" is never as compelling as how things go wrong.

That's why "hard counters" deployed against player character (e.g. counterspell, an area of dead magic, Turn Immunity) are usually less interesting than "soft counters" which tend to follow a "yes, but..." formula. My experience is that "hard counters" really need to be used judiciously to preserve the player's fun; in other words, they can easily be overdone.

Of course, with different GM styles and different players YMMV, but I see that as a weakness in the play loop you're describing. "Your fireball fizzles, nothing happens" might be interesting as a novelty... once... maaaybe twice if you're clever with it. But it's kind of...it kind of sucks, right? Why exactly is this happening? Where was the foreshadowing? Could it have at least gone out with a bang rather than a whimper?

As a player, when you tell me something goes wrong with my fireball spell... I'm leaning in and kind of perversely excited to find out how it goes wrong. I think the other (related) issue you might encounter is that "nothing happens" is something players really don't want to hear – unless you're in an investigation play loop where they're trying a bunch of things to see what sticks. But generally not in combat or high-conflict scenes. Too much "nothing happens" really kills the pacing.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
Quickleaf's point about How is really great.

I realize this is probably not want you were thinking, but my 1e mind looks at this setup and it is screaming "Henchmen!" I'd be hiring level 1-2 fighters and the like to accompany the main party. As henchmen, they are under the command of the PCs, though their morale could falter in stressed situations. As NPCs, their possible death is less personal to the PCs. Make some magic items useful to fighters discoverable and useable as payment.

Relatedly, I've seen lots of commentary about "weird" party compositions (e.g. all bards) and whether they are viable. If testing that viability is the point, fine. But if the players really want to play this way, henchmen are how to fill out the complete party.
 

timbannock

Explorer
House ruling clerics into wizards is the simplest solution ever: replace spell book with prayer book and have it work the exact same.

Sorcerers and Warlocks might simply be "burdened" with a requirement that they interact with a spell once before they can ever learn it: either witness it take effect, be targeted by it, or read it in some form (including a spell scroll, which is a functional way to do all three potentially).
 

Grantypants

Explorer
Of course, with different GM styles and different players YMMV, but I see that as a weakness in the play loop you're describing. "Your fireball fizzles, nothing happens" might be interesting as a novelty... once... maaaybe twice if you're clever with it. But it's kind of...it kind of sucks, right? Why exactly is this happening? Where was the foreshadowing? Could it have at least gone out with a bang rather than a whimper?
That's a good point. I should have made my assumptions clearer in my original post. In the morning when players are preparing spells, that's when they find out what spells are no longer viable options. This would not be something that they discover mid-combat. There might be a rare boss or something that adapts to spells borg-style after being hit once, but that would be the exception and not the rule.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Hmm how about the wizards can see spells growing fainter in their spellbooks? The wizards could make a check (the DC getting harder the fainter it gets) to read the faint writing? That would nicely foreshadow things and cause a sense of urgency? Seems like lower level spells would go first as they’re the easiest to neutralize?

However I can also see this gimmick growing old rather quickly? Perhaps a level or two? But a whole campaign on this clock…?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
That's a good point. I should have made my assumptions clearer in my original post. In the morning when players are preparing spells, that's when they find out what spells are no longer viable options. This would not be something that they discover mid-combat. There might be a rare boss or something that adapts to spells borg-style after being hit once, but that would be the exception and not the rule.
Well, that's even less interesting, right? As flawed as the former condition was – i.e. losing access mid-encounter – the way you intend to run it removes even more element of discovery.

Before taking this idea into play, I would encourage you to think about it from the perspective of your players and the narrative first.

Right now, you're approaching it from a very top-down stance. World state changes. Meta-game, you inform players during spell prep, "no, fireball and tiny hut are no longer available to be prepared." Ok... as a player, that would feel like a really unsatisfactory explanation.

What does spell preparation look like in your game? What happens narratively when I try to prepare my fireball? For example, "the threads of the spell pull from your mind, like forgetting the voice of a long-lost loved one, and before your very eyes the very ink on your spellbook pages starts to bleed away" has vast story-telling implications. From a player's perspective, that narrative gets their wheels turning, "Huh, ok, so how could we preserve the knowledge of a spell? Like is there a monster with infallible memory that we could teach it to, and then go back to whenever we need to relearn the spell?" Or: "What if I chiseled my spellbook into rock?"

Again, that gets back to the hard counter idea. With a hard counter, there's no more room for discovery, the conclusion is foregone, and there's nothing for players to interact with. It's a very, very strong move of all the moves a DM could take. It's like partner dancing and suddenly you're busting out nothing but power moves and your partner has nothing left to do. A few power moves used judiciously, yeah, that can be a nice spice. But too much ruins the recipe.

Anyhow, this is all my opinion, and YMMV depending on play style.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
Right now, you're approaching it from a very top-down stance. World state changes. Meta-game, you inform players during spell prep, "no, fireball and tiny hut are no longer available to be prepared." Ok... as a player, that would feel like a really unsatisfactory explanation.
There's no question that this premise requires a very particular sort of play style, both from the players and the DM. The players have to be willing to be flexible and recognize that the spells they have are temporary assets. The DM, meanwhile, has to make sure that the players continue to have options before they face a hard counter.

So yeah, they might not be able to prepare fireball or tiny hut, but last session they found chains of perdition and gloomwrought barrier and salt lash and song of the forest. The discovery aspect is meant to be "what are these new spells and how can I use them to accomplish my goals?"

The DM has a lot of work to make sure that the party does have the opportunity to find new spells as treasure over the course of the game. That's an aspect of treasure hunting that doesn't get a lot of support (in my experience) so I wonder what it would look like as a major pillar of a campaign.

You are right on the money as far as needing better narrative support for what this mechanic looks like to the PCs. That's something I want to brainstorm more.

I realize this is probably not want you were thinking, but my 1e mind looks at this setup and it is screaming "Henchmen!"
I hadn't really considered henchmen as an option. Since paladins and druids and eldritch knights and arcane tricksters would all be on offer, all the party roles could still be filled. But henchmen are the perfect backstop to make sure that bad party composition doesn't cause much of a problem.
 

All the PCs have to pick classes capable of casting spells, at least by level 3, where we'll start. Artificers and psionic classes are not included as options, but are likely to show up as major antagonists.
Um... in 5e there are no psionic classes? The closest to psionic classes are the subclasses of the Psychic Warrior Fighter, Soulknife Rogue, and Aberrant Mind Sorcerer.

Artificers are spellcasters, so why ban them?
I'll use a random table for selecting the spells that are deleted from the world. There's a few warlock invocations that refer specifically to eldritch blast, so I might open those up to benefit any warlock cantrip, in case eldritch blast is deleted.
Eldritch Blast is effectively a class feature of warlocks and Eldritch Blast + Agonizing Blast is how warlocks keep up in DPR. It might be worth just leaving it (and possibly a couple of healing spells) off the table
 

aco175

Legend
I was thinking that there would be problems between the main casters. Wizards have the most spells, so the most to loose. They keep the spells in their mind from the book until they study a new one. What happens when that spell goes bad. Do they simply forget it, like it never existed, or slowly over time. If their book looses it and they can keep it in their mind, maybe for a time. This is like sorcerers with all the spells in their mind. With little spells, how they loose the spells makes a bid difference. Warlocks get other spell-like powers, but are these spells for this purpose?

What about signature cantrips like Eldritch Blast. How are players to take it when these spells leave.

I wonder if there are items that cast spells like wands and staffs that recharge that the PCs can get. Not sure if these should keep the spells longer or until they run out. Maybe they only recharge 1d4 after a while or the max charge slowly looses one each week or such. scrolls and potions that keep the spell where it disappears from books, or these spells loose the spell as well?
 

piers

Explorer
Are you also ruling out multi-classing?

Because the first thing I would do when I started finding out that spells were disappearing from the world would be to level up from then on in classes which weren't getting nerfed. After all, my character knows that spells are disappearing, so why bone up on the Arcane Arts when you know you'd be safer learning to use a bow or axe?

There are a few approaches you could take to fix this:
  • Require all levels to be taken in a magic-using class
    • Needs player buy-in because of the removal of levelling-up agency
    • Do Arcane Tricksters count? If so they're far less affected by the problem
  • Require some levels to be taken in a magic-using class (eg every 2nd or 3rd)
    • Still needs player buy-in as above
  • Give "free" magic-using class levels every so often
    • So the PCs are all, I don't know members of the same order?
    • They get to choose one class for themselves each level, but every second, third, what-have-you level they get a free level in a MU-class at the same time because [lore]
  • Balance the loss to the magic-using classes somehow
    • eg every time you lose a spell your baseline cantrip damage gets a +1 as it's now drawing on that part of your spell energy that was previously powering the spell you lost
    • Needs to be thought through!
  • Don't worry about it, but have lots of magic-using NPCs
    • Yeah, I may be fine, but my friend the Wizard can't defend their tower from monsters any more; I now have Plot-related rather than Power-related reasons to care
 

This is a tricky setup, because you need some player buy in, but you probably don't want to give away the element of discovery to them. I'd be aware that the possibility of this campaign flaming out is higher than normal.

Classes with no issues: cleric, druid, paladin, and wizard port very easily. Adding in "prayer books" is a simple solution.

Classes with some issues: bard, ranger, Eldritch Knight, and Arcane Trickster switching to prepared casters isn't that big a deal (and rangers should have been this way to begin with).

Classes with problems: sorcerer and warlock are pretty ingrained with limited known spells, so switching them up is an issue. To change them to prepared casters, I'd allow them full access to class spells available to choose their spells from. Instead of doing it on a long rest, it's set on a known timeline (celestial event, 7 days, whatever) that they can follow, where they have to perform a small ritual to prepare spells. The rules of magic have limited the BBEG's ability to remove spells to this exact same time, so when these casters attempt to prepare their spells, they find some are just... gone. As new spells are found, they can add them to their pool to choose from.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
I think the easiest way to do this is to just require that all levels be taken in a spellcaster class, or at least a spellcaster subclass. So you can multiclass into rogue if you want, but only if you take arcane trickster.

All the players are going to have to buy in to the concept from the beginning, which means I have to be open about the premise with them from the beginning, before they've decided on character concepts or anything else. At session zero, or earlier if possible, I'll have to tell the players something like, "you'll lose access to certain spells, but you'll have the opportunity to find new and different spells to replace them".

This is a game that will require more system mastery than a standard D&D table requires. The sort of player who struggles with what their spells do even after several sessions and with the descriptions in front of them will probably not have a great time at this game. I will probably want to take measures to speed up combat to counteract the players constantly having to review and reassess what their spell options are. Open, player-facing initiative helps keep players ready for their turns. I could also make come monster stats visible in certain situations. If the party sees the monster make a DEX save, then I'll reveal the monster's bonus to DEX saving throws. Same thing with AC once someone hits or misses the monster.
 

Well, that's even less interesting, right? As flawed as the former condition was – i.e. losing access mid-encounter – the way you intend to run it removes even more element of discovery.

Before taking this idea into play, I would encourage you to think about it from the perspective of your players and the narrative first.
I'm going to reinforce this. If the campaign setting was run as presented then as a player I would very likely walk out.

When I create a character, especially for any spellcaster than a wizard, my spells are frequently part of my character concept. Let's say I want to play an illusionist and the dice destroy the Minor Image spells. I've just lost all ability to create at will illusions. This is effectively lobotomising my character by ensuring that they can't cast illusions except in emergencies.

At this point I have two basic choices. I can play a character that is massively less fun and less interesting than the character I signed up to play or I can tear up my character sheet. Even if I keep playing my lobotomised illusionist they are seriously going to change into a really cranky and pissed off character, now unable to do most of what they love.

And all because my DM decided to create a random table and by doing so and making a roll rendered my character concept unworkable. It's not a consequence of anything I've done in character that caused this mishap. It's not something I signed up for and was agreed in Session Zero.

For that matter the "for the preparing and casting of spells everyone is wizards" burns down some of the interesting things about the sorcerer class and some of the appeal of the warlock class. If I'm playing a storm sorcerer my power comes from the storm. It's not something I want to mess around with books with - I channel the power through me. Spellbooks are for wizards; I'm more of a conduit. And one of the reasons to want to play a warlock is so I only have a tiny handful of spells to worry about rather than messing around with an entire spellbook.

So the campaign premise where "everyone is a wizard no matter what your class is" savagely restricts even the spellcasting classes and massively reduces character concepts available. It also runs a serious risk of completely destroying peoples' character concepts in play or making them have a far more negative play experience.

And I see no real benefit to it.
 

Rabulias

Hero
Maybe spells begin having noticeably diminished effects when cast over time? Like fireball does less damage, has a smaller diameter, and/or has a shorter range? Magic missiles sometimes miss? Concentration checks on certain spells are more difficult? Saving throws are easier/get bonuses?

Edits: By "over time" I mean over days or weeks of game time, so the players and their characters can see what is happening and begin investigating it.

Note that this may also affect spells cast by opponents on them.
Player 1: "I thought we were dead when that wizard cast a lightning bolt at us."
Player 2: "Yeah, luckily he rolled very low for damage."
DM: "Actually, it seemed shorter and less energetic than a normal lightning bolt spell..."
 

Minigiant

Legend
How about the spell working but showing visual or audible clues that the spell is being erassed. For example if the spell is cast within a day of the ritual, the spell sparkles with static. After a week, an loud screech is hear upon casting. After 2 weeks a light burst after which the light dims every day until upon casting the casting static is black. When the casting static is black, you get a tiny chance of wild surges. Then after a month, the spell reverses. And the whole process happens again until the spell dims and fizzles.


But you know..,. as a DM... you'll need to invent a TON of new spells.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Well, let's see here.

To make the "all classes must be spellcasters" flavor, I would use the optional rules for Feats and for Multiclassing. This would make it easier. (Depending on how generous you need to be with magic, I'd also consider giving each character their choice of the Ritual Caster or Magic Initiate feat at 3rd level, for free, if they don't yet have the Spellcasting class feature.)

Requiring everyone to have levels of Wizard is a way to do it, but I'd be careful with mandates on who plays what. You'll need enthusiastic buy-in from everyone at the table for this to work, and that's hard to get.

To make the magic feel a little less stable and more perishible, I'd also use the optional rules for Scroll Mishaps (DMG pg. 140) and Wands Don't Recharge (DMG pg. 141). I'd probably allow the rules option for Crafting Magic Items (DMG pg. 128), but I'd only let it apply to potions, scrolls, and wands...give them a way to store up spells a bit and reeplace the spells they can't cast anymore.

And a word of caution: in 5th Edition, cantrips are bread-and-butter for spellcasting classes. Deleting them will seriously hamstring these characters. I would recommend instead of deleting them, have all spellcasters roll on a Spell Mishap table each time they cast certain cantrips. The spell still works, but it works less reliably.

Anyway, my two cents. Good luck with your new campaign! It sounds really fun.
 

Quartz

Hero
Turns out there's a BBEG who hates magic. He's found a ritual that can make a particular spell impossible for anyone to ever cast again.

Rather than removing spells, how about making individual spells more and more difficult to cast? A DC 1 check isn't onerous, but it's still a check, and the DC grows over time so it later rises to a DC 10 check, then DC 20, and in the fullness of time it becomes a DC 30 check.

And have the PCs find a reversing ritual which requires especially exotic components. E.g. to reverse the ritual that cancels Fireball you have to have some guano from Zotzilla, god of bats (Fireball requires bat guano so you need increased potency guano to re-enable it). Of course, while they were questing for that, the BBEG has cancelled a few other spells...
 

Grantypants

Explorer
I'm going to reinforce this. If the campaign setting was run as presented then as a player I would very likely walk out.

When I create a character, especially for any spellcaster than a wizard, my spells are frequently part of my character concept. Let's say I want to play an illusionist and the dice destroy the Minor Image spells. I've just lost all ability to create at will illusions. This is effectively lobotomising my character by ensuring that they can't cast illusions except in emergencies.

At this point I have two basic choices. I can play a character that is massively less fun and less interesting than the character I signed up to play or I can tear up my character sheet. Even if I keep playing my lobotomised illusionist they are seriously going to change into a really cranky and pissed off character, now unable to do most of what they love.

And all because my DM decided to create a random table and by doing so and making a roll rendered my character concept unworkable. It's not a consequence of anything I've done in character that caused this mishap. It's not something I signed up for and was agreed in Session Zero.

For that matter the "for the preparing and casting of spells everyone is wizards" burns down some of the interesting things about the sorcerer class and some of the appeal of the warlock class. If I'm playing a storm sorcerer my power comes from the storm. It's not something I want to mess around with books with - I channel the power through me. Spellbooks are for wizards; I'm more of a conduit. And one of the reasons to want to play a warlock is so I only have a tiny handful of spells to worry about rather than messing around with an entire spellbook.

So the campaign premise where "everyone is a wizard no matter what your class is" savagely restricts even the spellcasting classes and massively reduces character concepts available. It also runs a serious risk of completely destroying peoples' character concepts in play or making them have a far more negative play experience.

And I see no real benefit to it.
I concede a lot of what you said here is fair. If your character concept relies specifically on being able to cast some particular spells, and then those spells get destroyed, you would probably not have a good time in this game. It's not for everybody, and that's okay.

On the other hand, for this concept to have any chance of working, it has to be something that all the players at the table do agree to at Session Zero. The players have to all build their characters with this premise in mind. I think expectations are critical here. If you build a character intending to be an illusionist and excited about all the fun illusions you're going to cast, then that gets taken away, it probably won't be very fun. But instead, if you lean into it, you might have a good time. If you build a character fully aware that any spell they have might be taken away at some point, you'll end up probably making different choices in creating that character, choices that will hopefully lead to new and interesting outcomes at the table. This premise does cut off many viable character concepts, but it's no different than playing in Dark Sun or any other unique setting where the story either explicitly or implicitly limits some character options.

Everyone has a spellbook and can copy spells that they find into the spellbook is the easiest solution, at least from a game design perspective. Reflavor spellbooks into songbooks or prayer books and move on. Another more solution might be to mix it up. Maybe warlocks, paladins, and clerics have to persuade their god/patron to grant them new spells during a long rest, with a bonus or penalty if they did something to please or anger the god/patron that day. Sorcerers are trickier. Maybe when they lose a spell they know, they automatically get a random replacement spell. Pent-up arcane energies have to have a way to escape, or something like that to go with the idea of sorcerers as unstable conduits of magic. One thing that could work across the board would be to allow an arcana check (with your character's spellcasting ability modifier) to learn a spell that you can see cast and is on your class's spell list.

But you know..,. as a DM... you'll need to invent a TON of new spells.
Well actually, I have a bunch of third party supplements with hundreds of spells all ready to go. Deep Magic from Kobold Press, the back catalog from EN5ider, plus supplements large and small from the DM's Guild and elsewhere. In fact, wanting a chance to see those spells in play is one of the things that put this idea in my head in the first place.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

Create a new Stat called "Magical Contagion". Each caster gets it for each Spell they have. It starts at 1 (so Cantrips have a chance of being removed...eventually; keep reading). Every time the cast a spell, they add the effective level of that spell to the total of Magical Contagion. Before they actually cast that spell again, they must roll 1d100 (or 1d30, or 2d20, or whatever you decide before hand for the rule) and get OVER that spells MC...kinda like a DC but for spells I guess.
..
If they roll EQUAL to or LESS than that spells MC, then that spell has been "noticed and dealt with"...meaning it can no longer be cast and the PlayerS (all of them, this was a 'planar wide' effect, right?) that have that spell on their sheet can now just put a big, fat line through it.
..
Reasoning:
  1. It is a visual reminder to all the Players of what the current "campaign story" arc is.
  2. It is a visual reminder to all the Players that THEIR actions have consequences for EVERYONE.
  3. It makes the Players think seriously about casting higher level spells all "willy-nilly".
  4. It will reduce the Players desire to take a Long Rest to "get spells back".
  5. It will reduce the whole "Nova" mentality (relates to #4, above).
  6. It puts the 'decision' of what spells get "removed from play" on THEM...not you, the DM.
In particular, number 6 is worth noting. This is a campaign were Players 'key' abilities are going to be slowly taken away from them; if you're brave enough to let them have it to start, then yank it away from them...you don't want to be on the receiving end of that stick! ;) So...make them do it to themselves. Remove yourself from the equation. The players will then know that the only reason they no longer have access to Fireball is because they were casting it 4 to 6 times a day between them all...somebody was bound to fail their MC check and screw the lot of them. Your hands, as a DM, are clean.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top