Yesterday while describing outsider templates I described a little about how I picture spell-like abilities working.
This was something that I expected to give me a lot of trouble, but it turns out that the Tome (collecting articles and other writing by Frank Trollman and K [another Keith, I understand, but I don’t have a full name to attribute here –kjd] from The Gaming Den) has what appears to be a pretty workable scheme for managing spell-like abilities in a structured way.
I think I can use a pretty close adaptation of their rules in Echelon.
This is clearly usable for certain monsters (outsiders, mostly, and fey and the like), but I think the rules could work as a good way of implementing an analogue of the D&D 3.x Sorcerer class.
Spell-Like Ability Spheres
The Tome uses a structure called a ‘sphere’ that is very much like a clerical domain in D&D 3.x. Each sphere has a power (which as I recall often scales by character or creature level) and a list of spells. Each spell-like ability is available at a different level (0, 1, 3, 5, 7, …, 17, 19) – the same levels most primary casters get access to a new spell level. Taking a sphere once gives you the sphere power and lets you use each eligible spell-like ability once per day, taking a sphere twice lets you use each eligible spell-like ability three times per day, and taking a sphere three times lets you use each eligible spell-like ability at will.
Individual spell-like abilities may exactly match the spell descriptions or may have modifiers such as limitations (it appears teleport as a spell-like ability often limits how much the teleporter can carry) or enhancements (such as metamagic feats, which move the spell-like ability to a higher level).
In Tome you gain access to a sphere by spending a feat, if it is appropriate for you to have access to a sphere (such as being of a fiendish bloodline, or an elemental, or some other source of spell-like abilities). Feats in Tome have discarded most prerequisites and I think all scale by level (base benefits at BAB +0 or 0 skill ranks, improved benefits at BAB +1 or four skill ranks, then increased effects again every five BAB or ranks after that). Tome uses five-level tiers and gauges each ability by the constraining measurement (BAB or skill ranks, mostly, though I suppose they could use accessible spell levels as well – Tome is still a classed system).
Spheres in Echelon
I think I’ll keep some key elements of Tome spheres. I’ll ignore the powers for now (they can typically come from other talents), though I may bring them back if I feel it necessary. The list of spells will almost certainly stay, along with the ability to increase access to a sphere. Tome always gives full access to level-appropriate benefits for each feat, so spending multiple feats on access to a single sphere gives 3/day or at-will access to all eligible spells in the sphere.
Unlike Tome I will describe sphere spell-like abilities in terms of the spell-level equivalent (sixth-level spells are typically found in the “eleventh-level” slots of the Tome spheres. A character can have access to a spell-like ability if he has the needed Sphere Access talent at a high-enough tier and has a character level equal to or greater than the spell-like ability’s level times two minus one (that is, if his level is high enough that a D&D 3.x wizard would have access to spells of that level).
In Echelon you have an almost fixed number of level-appropriate talent slots, but the definition of ‘level-appropriate’ changes over time and you have lower-tier slots available to expand on abilities. In this case it means you can have limited access to a sphere instead of access to all spell-like abilities up to your level. Similarly, improved (3/day) or greater (at-will) access can be limited to lower-level spells.
A Champion character might have only Master Sphere Access (Heresy – see below), which will grant him access to spell-like abilities up to sixth level (align weapon (evil), desecrate, magic circle against good, unholy sword, lesser planar ally, dispel good) rather than up to seventh or eighth level as his level might allow. He might also take Heroic Improved Sphere Access, increasing his allowed uses of the sphere spell-like abilities to three times per day up to fourth level (align weapon (evil), desecrate, magic circle against good, unholy sword). He could also have Greater Sphere Access at this tier or another, allowing at-will use of some of the spell-like abilities.
The Sphere Access talents may have other prerequisites, or individual spheres may only be available to characters meeting certain conditions. For instance, Tome [Fiend] spheres may be taken by characters with fiendish blood (such as either part-fiend races or having taken a feat that ties them to fiendish powers), [Elemental] spheres may be taken by characters with elemental ties, and so on. A particular sphere may have more than one type granting access (the Fire sphere is marked [Elemental, Fiend] because it can be taken by characters of either type).
Save DCs are always determined based on Charisma modifier and are equal to 10 + the greater of the spell level in the sphere and the creature’s Charisma modifier, per Recalibrating Saving Throws. If spell-like abilities are defined as coming from ‘bloodlines’ or ‘blood power’ it might be appropriate to calculate save DCs based on Constitution modifier. For that matter, it may be that various derivations (bloodlines, etc.) could use different ability score modifiers – Fey might use Charisma, Fiendish might use Constitution, and so on. For that matter a character might be able to choose between Constitution or Charisma, depending on whether he draws on the power inherent in his blood or on his force of will to power his spell-like abilities.
If a character should happen to take two spheres that provide the same spells, I would be willing to allow him to treat those spells as having a higher level of access. For instance, if a character has Expert Sphere Access (or better) to the Bone and Heresy spheres (which both give desecrate as the second-level spell-like ability) the character could use that spell three times per day rather than just twice (once per sphere). Of course, this exception is more complex than just keeping it to twice per day, but could have a larger effect if Improved Sphere Access is taken for one or both of the spheres.
Comparing Spell-Like Abilities to Spell Casting
It seems like this might be a cheaper way than taking Eldritch Weaving (Thread Focus) talents to get access to spells, and in a sense it is. Instead of paying two talent slots to get access to the highest-level spells you need pay only one, and can spend additional slots to get even more access. This is true, but I don’t think it overpowering because the flexibility in making use of the spell-like abilities is so relatively low.
A twentieth-level character has six Legendary slots. Assuming he has nothing else to spend them on, let’s compare a Wizard (all slots spent on Thread Focus) and Sorcerer (all slots spent on Sphere Access).
The Wizard can maximize his access to three threads. This gives him four spell slots of each spell level up to tenth, and he knows about nine spells for each spell level up to ninth. The only reason he doesn’t know any tenth-level spells is none have been defined. He could instead have taken five threads to ninth level by taking Legendary Thread Focus and Master Improved Thread Focus for each of five different threads. This gives him caster level 19, six spell slots of up to ninth level, and knowledge of about fifteen spells per spell level, and still had a Legendary slot left over. The Wizard will also have access to the Minor and Major Powers of each thread.
The Sorcerer has several builds feasible. He could maximize access to two spheres and be able to use all abilities up to tenth level at will. I’ll admit that it can be nice to be able to spam the equivalent of tenth-level spells, but functionally he gets to pick from two such spells per spell level. He could instead take Improved Sphere Access for three spheres and have spell-like abilities per spell level he can use three times per day each. A potentially more useful build might see him take Legendary Sphere Access six times, Champion Improved Sphere Access five times, and Master Greater Sphere access five times, giving him five spell-like abilities per level up to sixth level he can spam, five more for levels seven and eight he can use three times per day, and five more of ninth and tenth level he can use once per day, plus a full range from first through tenth he can use once per day.
The Sorcerer above has a lot of spell-like abilities he can use, and spam, but his choices are still very much limited compared to the Wizard, and it costs him massively in terms of build – he essentially has only his spell-like abilities at anything resembling his level. It may well be worth limiting Sphere Access – redefine ‘at will’ to be five/day, drop Greater Sphere Access, or even drop Improved Sphere Access (and possibly recover spell-like abilities as spells using the Rest Mechanic adapted from Trailblazer). Six spell-like abilities per spell level, each usable once per day, might be more reasonable.
In other words, as with the Sorcerer and Wizard classes from D&D 3.5, the Sorcerer build looks more powerful in terms of raw firepower, but I suspect the limitations on usage may be sufficient to keep it from being overpowering compared to other dedicated spellcasters, and that the opportunity cost in such builds is large enough to make them unappealing. If it is necessary to pay a buy-in cost (such as spheres having prerequisite talents representing unusual characters or bloodlines) the potentially overwhelming power is significantly reduced.
Sphere Access Talents
The talents below provide access to sphere spell-like abilities as described above.
Sphere Access Talent
You may use the spell-like abilities of a chosen sphere once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to level 0, each once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to second level, each once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to fourth level, each once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to sixth level, each once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to eighth level, each once per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to tenth level, each once per day.
Improved Sphere Access Talent
You may use the spell-like abilities of a chosen sphere three times per day instead of once per day.
You must have Sphere Access at or above the tier you are taking Improved Sphere Access for the same sphere.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to level 0, each three times per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to second level, each three times per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to fourth level, each three times per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to sixth level, each three times per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to eighth level, each three times per day.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to tenth level, each three times per day.
Greater Sphere Access Talent
You may use the spell-like abilities of a chosen sphere as at-will spell-like abilities.
You must have Improved Sphere Access at or above the tier you are taking Greater Sphere Access for the same sphere.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to level 0, each as an at-will ability.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to second level, each as an at-will ability.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to fourth level, each as an at-will ability.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to sixth level, each as an at-will ability.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to eighth level, each as an at-will ability.
|You gain access to the spell-like abilities of a sphere up to tenth level, each as an at-will ability.
The following spheres are taken directly from the Tome and often include spells not described in the RSRD, and are presented primarily to show what spheres might look like. I am not creating descriptions of the spheres right now, but for the most part they should be fairly clear. These are all drawn from the ‘Fiendish Sphere’ section (hence the evident alignment tendencies below), but other spheres are in the Tome and yet more can be created.
- Command Undead
- Animate Dead
- Black Sand
- Summon Undead V
- Awaken Dread Warrior
- Revive Undead
- Awaken Undead
- General of Undeath
- Plague of Undead
- Death Knell
- Ghoul Gauntlet
- Vampire Touch
- Raise Dead
- Symbol of Death
- Finger of Death
- Death Pact
- Wail of the Banshee
- Align Weapon (evil only)
- Magic Circle Against Good
- Unholy Sword
- Planar Ally, Lesser
- Dispel Good
- Earth Glide
- Spike Stones
- Stone Shape
- Stone Tell
- Wall of Stone
- Move Earth
- Transmute Rock to Mud (special bonus: Transmute Mud to Rock)
- Meteor Swarm
- Cause Fear
- Halt Undead
- Phantasmal Killer
- Symbol of Fear
- Fear, Quickened
- Wail of the Banshee
- Modify Memory
- Dominate Person
- Planar Binding, Lesser
- Planar Binding, Greater
- Dominate Monster
- Gate (calling version only)
- Mind Rape