Exploring Multiple Charge Casting for Graded Items

A-Z 2016 "E"This should be the last math-heavy post for a while, then I can start getting into creating stuff with this system.

When working on Crafted Graded Staves I found that some of the PRD staves cannot be implemented with these rules. For instance, the staff of necromancy has 21 levels of spells assigned to it, the staff of power has 33 levels of spells assigned, and the staff of the hierophant has 34 levels of spells assigned. These are all over the Grade 20 limit I’d set on staves, let alone the Caster Level assigned to the items in the PRD.

The simplest solution is to reduce the spell list for each. It means I can’t directly implement the staves as described in the PRD, but that’s fine, they’re generally very powerful items.

It occurred to me, though, that many staves have at least one spell that requires multiple charges to cast. This reduces the market price of the staff because casting those spells exhausts the staff faster, reducing its utility.

How to Implement

The base grade of a spell-trigger item is equal to the total spell levels assigned to the item, possibly slightly higher if not all grades are assigned. Normally casting a spell from spell-trigger item costs a number of charges equal to the spell level. I think if I were to increase the casting cost of the spells in the item, I could reasonably decrease the final grade by the same amount. Reducing the grade reduces the Caster Level and charges available, and thus the market price.

I’ll spare you the fumbling around I did during analysis and present what I found to be the best answer.

In the samples below, the graded staves list the spells available, from most powerful to least, in this format:

  • spell name (spell-level, cost to cast; uses/day + charges remaining)

The ‘uses/day + charges remaining’ assumes the staff is used for that spell only (though any remaining charges could be used for other spells, obviously)

Grade Reduction

Very simply, take the amount you want to reduce the base grade, then divide that amount up as if you were assign grades to qualities. These amounts are then applied to increase the casting cost of the spells in the item, up to value of the modified grade.

For instance, the staff of necromancy I looked at yesterday has a base grade of 21, one higher than a staff allows. I want to bring that down to the PRD staff’s Caster Level of 13. That is a reduction of 8 grades, which can be split up 4, 2, 1, 1.

This changes the graded staff of necromancy from CL 21, with 21 charges, market price of 220,500 gp (21*21*500 gp), and able to cast:

  • circle of death (sixth-level, 6 charges; usable 3/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • waves of fatigue (fifth-level, 5 charges; usable 4/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • enervation (fourth-level, 4 charges; usable 5/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • halt undead (third-level, 3 charges; usable 7/day)
  • ghoul touch (second-level, 2 charges; usable 10/day)
  • cause fear (first-level, 1 charge; usable 21/day)

to CL 13, with 13 charges and a market price of 136,500 gp (13*21*500 gp) and able to cast:

  • circle of death (sixth-level, 6+4=10 charges; usable 1/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • waves of fatigue (fifth-level, 5+2=7 charges; usable 1/day + 6 charges remaining)
  • enervation (fourth-level, 4+1=5 charges; usable 3/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • halt undead (third-level, 3+1=4 charges; usable 4/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • ghoul touch (second-level, 2 charges; usable 6/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • cause fear (first-level, 1 charge; usable 13/day)

I would be tempted to increase the Caster Level to 14 so I have enough charges to cast waves of fatigue twice in one day. That aside, the PRD staff of necromancy has a market price of 82,000 gp and can cast spells show below (using standard charges, of which the staff has 10 and recovers up to one per day if the wielder invests a spell slot):

  • circle of death (sixth-level, 3 charges; usable 3/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • waves of fatigue (fifth-level, 2 charges; usable 5/day)
  • enervation (fourth-level, 2 charges; usable 5/day)
  • halt undead (third-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • ghoul touch (second-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • cause fear (first-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)

As you can see, the PRD staff can unleash quite a few more spells in one day than the graded equivalent. Over the course of a week, however, the graded staff can release many more spells. I think the modified costs are pretty reasonable. If you compare the costs of the three staves to standard enchanted weapons in the PRD, the CL 21 graded staff (220,500 gp) is worth more than a +10 weapon, the CL 13 graded staff is worth a little more than a +8 weapon, and the PRD staff is worth somewhere between a +6 weapon and a +7 weapon.

That feels about right to me. Now let’s see what happens if we look at the staff of power.

Staff of Power

The staff of power has the following spells assigned.

  • globe of invulnerability (sixth-level, PRD 2 charges; usable 5/day)
  • hold monster (fifth-level, PRD 2 charges;u usable 5/day)
  • wall of force (fifth-level, PRD 2 charges; usable 5/day)
  • cone of cold (fifth-level, PRD 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • fireball (third-level, PRD heightened to fifth-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • lightning bolt (third-level, PRD heightened to fifth-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • continual flame (second-level, PRD 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • levitate (second-level, PRD 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • ray of enfeeblement (first-level, PRD heightened to fifth-level, 1 charge; usable 10/day)
  • magic missile (first-level, PRD 1 charge; usable 10/day)

This is a total of 33 spell levels, or 41 levels if we take into account the various heightened spells. I have another plan for metamagic effects, so I’m going to ignore the heightened spells for now. I’m also ignoring the many non-spell effects. A straight conversion leads to a grade 33 staff with Caster Level 33, 33 charges, and worth 544,500 gp (33*33*500 gp).

  • globe of invulnerability (sixth-level, 6 charges; usable 5/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • hold monster (fifth-level, 5 charges; usable 6/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • wall of force (fifth-level, 5 charges; usable 6/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • cone of cold (fifth-level, 5 charges; usable 6/day + 3 charges remaining)
  • fireball (third-level, 3 charges; usable 11/day)
  • lightning bolt (third-level, 3 charges; usable 11/day)
  • continual flame (second-level, 2 charges; usable 16/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • levitate (second-level, 2 charges; usable 16/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • ray of enfeeblement (first-level, 1 charge; usable 33/day)
  • magic missile (first-level, 1 charge; usable 33/day)

That is a lot of magic. The PRD staff of power has a Caster Level of 15, 18 lower than the example above. A grade 18 item can be split up into 9, 5, 2, 1, 1.. but see those three fifth-level spells together and 9 grades/charges to allocate between them, I believe I’m going deviate from plan and lump them together. This simplifies things slightly and I think looks better. This gives me the spell load below.

  • globe of invulnerability (sixth-level, 15 charges; usable 1/day)
  • hold monster (fifth-level, 8 charges; usable 1/day + 7 charges remaining)
  • wall of force (fifth-level, 8 charges; usable 1/day + 7 charges remaining)
  • cone of cold (fifth-level, 8 charges; usable 1/day + 7 charges remaining)
  • fireball (third-level, 3 charges; usable 5/day)
  • lightning bolt (third-level, 3 charges; usable 5/day)
  • continual flame (second-level, 2 charges; usable 7/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • levitate (second-level, 2 charges; usable 7/day + 1 charge remaining)
  • ray of enfeeblement (first-level, 1 charge; usable 15/day)
  • magic missile (first-level, 1 charge; usable 15/day)

This reduces the cost from 544,500 gp to 247,500gp (15*33*500 gp), reducing it by more than half. It brings the power into much closer alignment with what I’d expect at this level. The wielder can cast globe of invulnerability only once in a day, and then only if he hasn’t used any charges that day. This is a severe limitation on its use. Similarly, only one instance of hold monsterwall of force, or cone of cold can be used in a day (but leaves 7 charges for other purposes). The other spells can be used a reasonable number of times (some combination of magic missile and ray of enfeeblement 15/day isn’t all that troublesome, given the other options available) before exhausting the staff. Still pretty nice to have, a little weaker each day than the PRD staff of power but more powerful over a week.

Note regarding the grade 41 staff (as I said, I’ve got other plans for metamagic in staves, but as an exercise): If I were to start with the grade 41 staff (including the heightened spells as higher-level spells), bringing that down to CL 15 means a 26-grade reduction. This could be split up 13, 7, 3, 2, 1, but with a CL of 15 there is a cap on spell cost of 15. Only 9 points of the 26 can be added to globe of invulnerability, leaving 17 (9, 4, 2, 1, 1). Given that there are now six fifth-level spells (heightened, remember), I’m tempted to increase the cost of globe of invulnerability to 14 (adding 8), then splitting the remaining 18 points among the six fifth-level spells (increasing the cost of each to 8… just enough that you can only cast one of any of them per day. Perhaps keep the 15-charge globe of invulnerability (1/day, only if you do nothing else), split 12 points between the six spells (7 charges each, allowing two castings of any of them), and the remaining 5 by adding 2 to the third-level spells (so 5 charges each), and 1 to one of the second-level spells.

Closing Comments

One of my goals with the graded items is to encourage qualities of a variety of grades (in the case of graded wands and staves, spells of varying levels). That works, as far as it goes, but leads to caster levels rather higher than the PRD items call for. I can either cut down the spell lists, or find a way to reduce the Caster Level. I didn’t want to simply reduce the Caster Level ‘for free’, it seemed like there should be some further effect.

I decided to explore increasing the cost of using the staff. Initial analyses (not shown) gave me results that really didn’t appeal to me. Switching to a variation on the graded approach — after all, I’m reducing the grade of the item — and applying the divided values among the spells in the item starting at the top gave me results that align well with what I’m looking for.

Another goal — desired side-effect, almost — of graded items is to have items with primary abilities and lower-grade secondary abilities. New items will likely conform to this pretty well, since the natural divisions of power encourage it. Modeling extant items, especially the more powerful ones, runs into problems because such items tend to have several higher-level abilities and a few lesser ones. This causes the items to have greatly-inflated grades (and consequently caster level and charges… and market price). The ‘graded reduction’ appears to have salutary effect on the caster level and market price, and brings the number of uses per day back in line.

I think in designing new items I would try to avoid adjusting the grade, it doesn’t seem to be needed. It appears to still be a useful tool when modeling extant items, or when an item needs just a little bit more than I’m aiming for.

I expect that as a rule I’ll want to limit how much I adjust the grade/caster level, but the staff of power example suggests that a pretty big change can still be workable.


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  1. Pingback: Quirk, Flaw, Curse: What’s the Difference? | In My Campaign - Thoughts on RPG design and play

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