Just The Rules: Variant Spell Casting

On further reading, it becomes evident to me that Ultimate Spheres of Power will indeed meet my needs, with a bit of mechanical refitting.

The spheres and talents fit my plans quite well, but tonight I’m looking at the drawbacks and boons, and how they are used to build magical traditions.

I’m not going to describe the various drawbacks, boons, and traditions (standard or custom). You can find them all in the Spheres of Power wiki.

Variant Casting Classes

I’m going to take a step back from the heartbreaker I’ve been working on, and shift back to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game as a base for discussion. What I’m going to describe can probably be applied to just about any D&D game, but it will be easiest to apply the content from Ultimate Spheres of Power to the system it was written for.

Standard Traditions

Ultimate Spheres of Power presents ‘traditions’ for the various casting classes. I’m going to focus on those in the Core Rulebook to keep this post to a reasonable size.

Each of the entries below shows the magic type (arcane or divine), casting ability (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma), Drawbacks (limitations or hazards of how they cast spells), and boons (which in this case is how many bonus spell points they get… an artifact of the Spheres system and not relevant for this discussion, but kept for completeness).

Bard

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Charisma
Drawbacks: Somatic Casting, Verbal Casting
Boon: +1 spell point, +1 per three levels gained in casting classes.

Cleric

Magic Type: Divine
Casting Ability Modifier: Wisdom
Drawbacks: Focus Casting, Prepared Caster, Verbal Casting; Aligned Combatant (Destruction), Aligned Protection (Protection)
Boon: +1 spell point per odd level in casting classes.

Druid

Magic Type: Divine
Casting Ability Modifier: Wisdom
Drawbacks: Focus Casting, Prepared Caster, Verbal Casting; Animal Shaman (Mind)
Boon: +1 spell point, +1 per odd level in casting classes.

Paladin

Magic Type: Divine
Casting Ability Modifier: Charisma
Drawbacks: Focus Casting, Prepared Caster, Verbal Casting; Aligned Combatant (Destruction), Aligned Protection (Protection)
Boon: +1 spell point per odd level in casting classes.

Ranger

Magic Type: Divine
Casting Ability Modifier: Wisdom
Drawbacks: Prepared Caster, Verbal Casting; Animal Shaman (Mind)
Boon: +1 spell point, +1 per three levels in casting classes.

Sorcerer

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Charisma
Drawbacks: Somatic Casting x2, Verbal Casting
Boon: +1 spell point per odd level in casting classes.

Wizard

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Intelligence
Drawbacks: Material Casting, Prepared Caster, Somatic Casting x2, Verbal Casting
Boon: +1 spell point per level in casting classes.

Examining Standard Traditions

Most of the traditions are pretty straightforward. All shown above have drawbacks and boons (boons in this case being a number of extra spell points — more general drawbacks mean more spell points gained).

Bardic spell casting requires verbal components, always (hence ‘Verbal Casting’: you must speak in a loud, clear voice to cast spells, breaking stealth and cannot cast in magical silence, or other situation where you cannot speak clearly), and somatic components (must have at least one hand free and cannot wear medium or heavy armor without risking arcane spell failure).

Wizard spell casting is even more restricted. Most of their spells (all in Spheres, but in the core rules ‘just most’) require material components, they must prepare their spells, and they’ve got twice the somatic drawback (wearing any armor or shield risks arcane spell failure).

Other classes have ‘sphere-specific’ drawbacks. These drawback do not give more spell points, but give additional talents from the related spheres. In some cases the bonus talents are restricted (only certain talents may be chosen, or even specific talents must be chosen).

The cleric tradition has the Aligned Combatant and Aligned Protection drawbacks from the Destruction and Protection spheres respectively. Aligned Combatant requires the caster to choose an alignment type (good, evil, law, chaos); when using destructive blast (base power of the Destruction sphere) creatures with that alignment take no damage, neutral-on-that-axis creatures take half damage, and opposed take full damage. Aligned Protection requires the caster to choose an alignment type; their aegises and wards (Protection sphere talents) work only against creatures with the opposing alignment.

Changing Traditions

The standard traditions above all aim to model existing classes. However, we have a facility here that could let us switch things up a bit. For simplicity I’m going to keep the same drawback totals, or net drawback + boon totals.

Variant Sorcerer Tradition

This version of the sorcerer is not limited by armor (removed Somatic Casting) but has Center of Power and Magical Signs.

  • Center of Power: obvious physical feature is the source of magical power; critical hit or called shot (at -10) can daze and cause loss of spell points.
  • Magical Signs: casting is spectacular. Bright lights, loud noises, the whole deal. Breaks stealth and any observer within 60 feet automatically succeeds at a Spellcraft check to know what spell was cast.

These sorcerers are Not Subtle.

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Charisma
Drawbacks: Center of Power, Magical Signs, Verbal Casting
Boon: +1 spell point per odd level in casting classes.

Variant Wizard Tradition I

Let’s use something more restrictive than Prepared Caster: Charged Spells. Prepared Caster requires the caster to assign spell points to a sphere, and the caster cannot spend more spell points in a sphere in a day than have been assigned to that sphere that day. With Charged Spells, the caster must spend 10 rounds preparing each spell (combination of talents, feats, etc., and committing spell points) they will be able to cast that day. The committed spell points can only be used for this spell, but can be recovered if the committed spell is released. A new spell must be committed before it can be cast. The number of charges committed is limited by magic skill bonus and casting ability modifier.

Carrying and casting these spells is also draining: any time the wizard spends a spell point (casts a spell) they take 1 point of nonlethal damage, plus 1 per five caster levels (can only be regained by rest: full night’s rest recovers all nonlethal damage caused this way).

In fact, not only is this magic draining, a wizard must have a focused mind to cast. Mental Focus is lost when the wizard fails a save versus mind-affecting magic, suffers a critical hit, or suffers a condition that would prevent concentration. Focus can be regained as a full-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity. If a wizard tries to cast a spell without focus, the wizard must make a concentration check (DC 20 + spell level) or lose the spell (charged spell is lost, spell points spent, to no effect).

This gives us four points of drawbacks. One gets rid of Prepared Caster, let’s remove Material Casting and Somatic Casting.

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Intelligence (or Constitution)
Drawbacks: Charged Spells, Draining Casting, Mental Focus, Verbal Casting
Boon: +1 spell point per level in casting classes.

Variant Wizard Tradition II

Let’s make a tropish (cliche!) wizard-inna-tower tradition.

First, it’s not going to be convenient.

Diagram Magic requires that either the caster or the target is in a magic diagram. Creating a magic diagram take a full-round action per 5-foot square in the diagram, and a successful Spellcraft check (DC 15 + maximum caster level of spell to be used in the diagram). Caster may take 10 even under pressure, and a permanent (but not portable) diagram may be created.

Let’s also make it Area Bound: must be within 1 mile per magic skill bonus (basically caster level here) of the wizard’s bound permanent diagram. A wizard may have multiple permanent diagrams and can change their bound diagram via an 8-hour ritual at the diagram. Casting outside this region requires a concentration check (DC 20 + spell level).

This is three points of drawback. Let’s remove Material Casting, Prepared Caster, and Verbal Casting. I imagine the caster will enact a spell by interacting with the diagram, from within (most likely) or without.

Magic Type: Arcane
Casting Ability Modifier: Intelligence
Drawbacks: Area Bound, Diagram Magic, Somatic Casting x2
Boon: +1 spell point per level in casting classes.

Variant Druid Tradition

I’m imagining a druid casting tradition that draws on the oggham, on runes. Diagram Magic might work, but it’s not what I have in mind.

Skilled Casting, on the other hand, ties magic to a particular Perform, Profession, or Craft skill (DC 15 + caster level). Profession (Scribe) is almost a perfect fit.

It’s probably slower than normal, too. Extended casting increases casting time by one step (standard action becomes full round, etc.).

This is three points of drawbacks; we can remove Focus Casting, Prepared Caster, and Verbal Casting entirely. The druid will ‘cast spells’ by inscribing oggham runes on the objects or creatures to be affected.

Magic Type: Divine
Casting Ability Modifier: Wisdom
Drawbacks: Extended Casting, Skilled Casting (Profession: Scribe); Animal Shaman (Mind)
Boon: +1 spell point, +1 per odd level in casting classes.

Closing Comments

These variants were put together fairly quickly by adapting the Spheres system back to the base game. I would want to find another option to replace the spell point boons — Spheres has other options, but I didn’t want to bring them in, to keep this post simpler.

My main takeaway is that this looks like it can provide the means to increasing the distinction between different caster types. Each of the four variations above feels quite a bit different than they do in the base rules. The variants have different inconveniences when casting, but that’s okay. They’re called drawbacks for a reason.

I like it. I’m going to need to flesh out my options a bit more, especially with regard to boons, but I can see that even with the set of drawbacks and boons I have now I’ve got a fairly big space to design in.

Regarding the bigger project, I think I’m going to have, for the expert paths, a set of ‘core drawbacks and boons’ (i.e. wizards share these ones, clerics share those ones), with traditions and churches (the choosable elements of the classes) adding or adjusting the base. For instance, the wizard tradition might usually have ‘Prepared Caster’, but one tradition might have Charged spells and another might replace Prepared Caster altogether. I think I’d generally want traditions to have the same net value, though.

Traditions and churches (etc.) likely would have sphere-specific drawbacks representing the primary magical interests (spheres and talents) of that option.

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3 Comments

  1. Steve Gunnell

    It reads like you are channelling some _Chivalry & Sorcery_ there. You could also count fighter types using Ki techniques in there as well. In fact all your superheroic feats might be considered as forms of magic.

    • Magic, or at least fantastic, to be sure.

      Drop Dead Studios also has Spheres of Might that is the martial side of Spheres of Power, if I’m looking for content to mine. And Dreamscarred has Path of War, the Pathfinder version of Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords.

      It is possible that high-tier abilities, be they feats or path abilities, could be magical. Or they might not: anyone who knows how could cast a spell to do that, but that they can be done through skill alone is fantastic.

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