Unified Spell Casting System

In an  Alternative epic level system thread in rec.games.frp.dnd, I had cause to examine the spell slots available to the various classes. I was able to come up with a reasonably close approximation to the spell slots available to all of the base classes. Examination of the various spell lists led me to the conclusion that the ‘weakest casting classes’ (paladin and ranger) could almost as easily be changed to use the cleric and druid spell lists with little loss. I have not yet fully examined the bard list, but a cursory look suggests that folding the bard spell list into the wizard spell list, then using that combined list for bards, would actually work out fairly well.

Further examination of the spell lists in the RSRD (which involved me building a 600 row spreadsheet to capture the numbers) indicated that where a spell appears in more than one spell list it is almost always at the same level. Most of the exceptions show up with the weaker casters (bard, paladin, ranger) lists compared to the primary caster spell lists, and as I’d found, using the primary list spell level and the modified spell slots tables ended up in the spells being available at approximately the same class level as RAW.

This suggested that it may be possible, and even feasible, to unify the spell casting system so all classes cast spells using the same mechanisms.

Note that I expect the sorcerer class to go away, replaced by something that uses spell-like abilities. This might be something like the warlock class, or it might be a ‘bloodline’-based solution.

Similarly, I expect bard, paladin, and ranger to be replaced by prestige classes that would use the ‘new standard’ spell casting. This is not required, though; a paladin or ranger may still be written up as half caster classes, and the bard might be best modeled as a multiclassed character.

Goals

  • Multiclass spell casters work better;
  • Spell access is no longer constrained by ‘class’;
  • Spell access may be constrained through other mechanisms;
  • Spell access ‘theming’ is encouraged;
  • Each spell has a single level (this is not an important goal, but a nice-to-have);
  • Ability score requirements are widened a little (RAW, only a single ability score is used by each class);
  • Current base classes can be modeled fairly closely, or analogs created that fill the same niches.

First Cut

Multiclass Spell Casters

This one is simple enough. All spell casting classes increase caster level at some rate, and it stacks across all classes. All spell casting is done using the same spell slot table (the ‘Wizard table’, I expect), with feats and class abilities modifying this as needed.

Spell Access

This is probably best done using a combination of feats, skills, and ability score requirements.

  • Rather than having a single ability score govern maximum spell level castable, bonus spell slots, and save DC, break these out.
    • Intelligence determines maximum spell level castable
    • Wisdom determines bonus spell slots
    • Charisma determines save DC
  • Spells are split into paths, probably with 10-15 spells per path. Very similar spells (the various cure wounds spells, summoning spells, etc.) may be considered a ‘single spell’ for this purpose.
  • Access to spell paths is through feats (one per path, I expect).
  • Spell knowledge on a path is limited by the ranks in one or more associated skills. For instance, the Healing Path has Heal as the associated skill. If you have 12 ranks in Heal, you know any path spell castable by a 12th-level caster, whether you can cast it or not.
  • Caster level with a path is the lesser of your caster level and the number of ranks in the associated skill (if you have only three ranks in Heal, you can cast only up to second-level spells on the Healing Path, at third caster level, even if your caster level is much higher)
  • Per RAW, you must have an ability score of at least 10 + spell level in order to cast a particular spell.
    • Above, I said Intelligence determines this, but it may prove interesting and/or valuable to vary this by spell path, tradition, or school.
  • ‘Traditions’ group thematically-related spell paths. For instance, a tradition of fire magics may have a path of summoning (fire creatures), blasting (evocation spells using fire), and defense (abjurations using fire or protecting against fire).
    • A tradition feat adds all spells of the related traditions to the character’s ‘spell list’; the character may use spell completion and spell trigger items incorporating these spells.
    • A tradition feat may also modify skill access
      • In a more or less RAW game, it may make the path-related skills class skills, so the caster can buy them up at a more reasonable cost
      • In a game using using Iron Heroes-style skill access, the tradition feat may also give a ‘Skill Group’ containing the skills associated with the paths of the tradition. Or not, since I expect Skill Group would be a feat itself.
  • Spell completion items may be safely used if
    • the character’s caster level is no lower than the item’s caster level; or
    • the character’s ranks in the path-related skill are no lower than the item’s caster level
      • I may even soften this to ‘the character knows the item’s spell’, but I don’t know yet
  • There may be ‘advanced paths’ (‘prestige paths’?) that are only available when certain conditions are met, such as caster level, ranks in a particular skill (which may or may not be associated), access to a particular spell path, or any other prerequisite
    • Advanced paths are not added to the character’s ‘class spell list’ as part of a tradition, even if the advanced path is evidently closely related to the tradition; the spells are added only when the character gains access to the path
    • There may be ‘advanced traditions’ (with their own prerequisites) that provide access to the advanced paths.

Examples

All examples below assume characters receive more feats than RAW provide. I expect that casters would get varying numbers of feats to cover initial spell access and casting abilities, similarly to how fighters get feats at first level (RAW these are mostly assigned for the fighter) to provide armor and weapon proficiency.

Druid

I won’t go into the other druid class abilities (wildshape, etc.) here, only the spell casting.

Druids are full casters (one caster level per class level, spell access goes up to ninth spell level). This would be mirrored here — they get full caster level advancement.

Druidic spells fall into several obvious groups. Animal-related spells, plant-related spells, and elemental spells. Lesser healing magics could be part of the tradition as well. Several other spell types are present that could be folded into the main lists (summoning spells could be considered part of the animal, plant, or elemental groups depending on what is summoned; weather magics could be considered part of elemental).

So, ‘Tradition:Druidism’ would give access to Animal, Plant, Elemental, and Lesser Healing spell paths. Some 40-60 spells would be added to the character’s ‘class spell list’. He does not yet actually *know* any spells.

Animal and Plant paths would use Knowledge(Nature), which is entirely an appropriate associated skill. Lesser Healing path probably using the Heal skill (a druid class skill, so it still fits).

The Elemental path is a little trickier. If it were just ‘application of natural forces’ it could still use Knowledge(Nature). However, it includes summoning elementals in this case (part of summon nature’s ally), which normally uses Knowledge(The Planes) — not a druid class skill.

In this case, because there are enough elemental spells available to druids, I’d probably split it into two paths. The basic one has the ‘application of natural forces’ spells and uses Knowledge(Nature). The other is an advanced path that requires the basic path but uses Knowledge(Nature).

Weather magic would also use Knowledge(Nature). Depending how many elemental spells are left in the basic path, it might be folded into that one or split into another advanced path — the basic path provides the low-level spells, the advanced path provides the more powerful spells.

I might have maximum spell level castable based on Wisdom here rather than Intelligence, since the spells are more about attunement to nature than actual scholarly study. Also, it’s what the original class uses, and it better suits this sort of character. It also means that a character who is really good at druidic magic might be less inclined to stray to other types of magic — he might be fairly useless when it comes to other types of magic because Intelligence is a dump stat.

In any case, the character has bought up Knowledge(Nature) for his spell knowledge, and possibly also Heal. He has spent one feat on the Druidic Magic tradition, and spent feats on Animal, Plant, Elemental, and Lesser Healing paths. Five feats (which is about the number I had in mind for fullcasters at first level), providing access to his basic druidic magics.

This can use some tweaking, obviously. I’m going off the top of my head for the spell paths available and their structure; I’d surely work them out in better detail before I used them.

Paladin

Paladins are half casters, gaining one caster level every two character levels (though I may introduce ‘half levels’ of spell slots; I’ve worked out the math before). They can still get fifth-level spells by 18th level, but they will have only very constrained spell lists.

Each paladin would probably take a tradition feat associated with his order, or ‘Paladin tradition’ if a more generic solution is needed. The Paladin Tradition would probably include spells that might fit the ‘Good’ and ‘Law’ domains, and probably a ‘Paladin path’ containing the other paladin-specific spells. He probably spends only two or three feats on his spell casting early on (as a half caster he would have about half the feats a full caster would have to work with), so his spell knowledge is going to be rather limited.

The ‘Good’ and ‘Law’ spells, because they are tied to alignments (normally a ‘religious’ issue) would likely use Knowledge(Religion). The ‘Paladin path’ probably would too.

Fey Magic

It seems likely it would be based largely around enchantments and illusions, and perhaps some transformations. Fey Magic Tradition might therefore have three paths, one for each of these purposes.

The Illusion path could likely be based on the Bluff skill, Enchantment path might use Diplomacy (or Bluff, since it messes with the target’s perception of reality and relationships). The Transformations I’m not sure of, so I’ll use my default of Knowledge(Arcana) until I come up with something better.

I’d probably have this tradition, or at least the Enchantment and Diplomacy paths, use Charisma to govern the maximum spell level castable. This is partly because it fits the theme much better than Intelligence, and partly to give it a slight boost because it’s harder to get full access to all the spells anyway (more skills are needed).

This is a more challenging tradition to work with than druidic magic or paladin magic, but it’s got a wider variety of abilities. A similar number of feats would be needed to master it — one for the tradition, three for the paths, and perhaps one for a Skill Group to make buying up the necessary skills cheaper).

Clerical Magic

This one is all over the place. There are so many different types of clerics and spells needed that it would be almost impossible for a single character to master all of them.

This is, to my mind, a rather good thing. I expect it would, with a bit of consideration, come fairly close to creating ‘clerics’ who cast spells that fit the themes of their particular gods.

I can see a Tradition for each god containing the ‘domain spell paths’, and possibly a god-specific path. I think each god would likely have a base of three paths plus a god-specific path, and likely advanced paths in many cases. I’ve always pictured a tradition has having three paths, but between a probably requirement of ‘godsworn’ (the feat that provides divine channeling) and the limitations on the ‘cleric’s’ actions, bumping it a little is probably okay.

There might also be a ‘religion tradition’ usable by all or any priest that calls on the gods of a particular pantheon. It would not be necessary for clerics of the gods of this pantheon to take this tradition (though they might, for the increased spell list even if they don’t learn the paths).

Wizard Magic

This is probably just as bad as clerical magic, for breadth of application. Again, this strikes me as a good thing.

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