The other day I described how graded items can be defined. That post is a bit dry, but that happens sometimes with groundwork. I’ll present an application of how spell trigger items can be implemented as graded items below.
Wands are the simplest spell-trigger items to model. Per the Pathfinder Reference Document, a wand is crafted to hold a single spell of up to fourth level. Graded wands are a little more complicated, but can be more powerful and more versatile in the long run, but I’ll add constraints to limit how much their use can be spammed.
The Total Grade of the wand is equal to the wand’s Caster Level, and the wand can be imbued with as many spell levels as it has Total Grade. Each spell is a ‘benefit’ with a grade equal to the spell level (0-level spells are worth half a level, as normal practice). No charges per se, but the wand can be used to cast a number of spell levels per day equal to its Caster Level. A wand is limited to a Caster Level of 10.
A major wand of military fire [good for battlefield control and supporting troops, not just blasting stuff] has a Caster Level (and thus Total Grade) of 10. This allows up to fifth-level spells, but I don’t see any I like. Instead, it will start with the fourth-level wall of fire. This leaves six grades of benefits, so let’s add flame arrow (third-level, reducing grade to 3), flaming sphere (reducing grade to 1), and burning hands (reducing grade to 0, done). The wand has ten charges per day, and a market value of 50,000 gp.
The wand of military fire has a Caster Level of 7, and allows the wielder to cast wall of fire (fourth-level), flaming sphere (second-level), and burning hands (first-level). The wand has seven charges per day, and a market value of 24,500 gp.
The minor wand of military fire has a Caster Level of 5, and allows the wielder to cast fireball (third-level), burning hands (first-level), flare (0-level) and light (0-level). The wand has five charges per day, and a market value of 12,500 gp.
To compare, the PRD staff of fire allows the wielder to cast wall of fire (fourth-level, 3 charges), fireball (third-level, 2 charges), and burning hands (first-level, 1 charge), is CL 8, and has a a market price of 18,950 gp.
Okay, I think I like these. Thematically sound magic items, ranging from minor to major power. The more powerful wands aren’t precisely supersets of the weaker wands (the minor wand of military fire breaks that), but that’s fine.
I’m not entirely sure what to do with 0-level spells. I don’t really want to get into ‘half-charge’ costs for spells. Given that cantrips and orisons are allowed unlimited use I’m inclined to do the same here. They cost half a level for allocation, but cost nothing to cast. I might add a limitation, “as long as there are charges not spent”.
Spell trigger items such as wands and staves have historically been a combination of very useful, and awfully boring. A (core rules) wand is a spell battery of a single low-level spell that can be spammed at will until you run out of charges, which is typically pretty hard to do. Giving the wands more spells available but fewer daily charges and increasing the spell cost makes them more flexible, limits the ability to spam individual spells (though a CL 10 wand still allows ten uses of a first-level spell), and makes the wand a permanent item. It also makes them somewhat more expensive, but that stands to reason since they are better items.
Because it is not necessary to assign all allowed grades, you can create a wand of a single spell. A wand of fireball (third-level spell) might be Grade 6 (6d6 damage, usable 2/day) or Grade 9 (9d6 damage, usable 3/day).
Hmm. This gives me a bad thing in the cost formula, though. Going from Grade 6 to Grade 9 increases cost by half, but the effect change is quadratic (half again as much damage, half again as many times per day). I might need to address that.