As I discussed in My House Rules – Spells, I adjusted the spell levels so that each spell’s level corresponded to the level of the character required to cast it. This was a simple matter of multiplying the existing spell level by three and then subtracting two, except for cantrips which were left at level zero. This resulted in spell levels of one, four, seven, ten, etc., up to a maximum of 25.
By itself this would be acceptable but I prefer to have new spells become available every level instead of every three levels. It would be a simple matter to separate each group of spells into three portions to fill the gaps and balance the number of spells per level. However, since I was going through the spells anyway, I figured that this was a good time to re-evaluate all of the spells and determine if their level assignments matched what I considered to be reasonable.
Re-assigning Spell Levels
There are various criteria that can be used to determine the level of each spell. Unfortunately, each method is very subjective. There isn’t any simple formula that can be used to evaluate one spell against another. In the past, it appears that attempts were made to base the level on the usefulness of the spell. Although that method works fairly well, I wanted to try a different approach. I wanted to identify the theoretical skills and knowledge required to cast each spell and then determine what spells would naturally follow each other if you were to increase your training in those same skills and expand your understanding of that particular sphere of knowledge.
Similarity and Relative Difficulty
For instance, Blink is somewhat similar to Dimension Door and Teleport. Alterations and enhancements of a spell naturally follow the base spell which would lead on to Teleportation Circle. In each of these cases, the subject disappears from one place and reappears in another. So how do they get there? It could be argued that the subject travels from point A to point B via an extra-dimensional link.
If you accept that definition then it follows that other spells that deal with extra-dimensional space manipulation must also be related. This leads us to include Rope Trick, Passwall, and a couple of others.
Once you have mastered establishing links between normal space and extra-dimensional spaces, it seems to me that this is similar to establishing links between planes of existence. Astral Projection, Plane Shift, Gate, even Leomund’s Secret Chest all fall in this category.
Once you identify groups of spells in this manner, it’s a little easier to determine the relative difficulty and level of training required to cast each relative to the others. This is the general process I used to assign my new spell levels.
I selected the above group of spells to use as an example for a reason. After seeing all the spells used in this chain laid out together and seeing where Teleport fell in the progression, I was convinced that Teleport should be a much lower level spell than it had been up to now. As a lower level spell, it should become a much more typical method of travel as well as becoming available to lower level groups.
Since I rule that casters must be familiar with the destination, this will not replace normal overland travel in many cases. But since everyone is familiar with their own town, this will make it easier and faster for groups to return to town at the end of the evening when it’s time to wrap things up. This alone might be reason to consider lowering the level of Teleport (and removing the chance of failure) even if you don’t adopt other aspects of the changes I’ve outlined here.
Filling In the Blanks
Laying spells out in this manner actually helped me identify empty spots in the progression of some chains of spells. These empty spots represented a jump between one spell and another similar spell where it made sense, to me, that there should be an intermediate spell between the two.
The Damage Spells
I decided to adopt the ten damage types used in 4th edition: acid, cold, electricity, fire, lightning, necrotic, poison, psychic, radiant, thunder. Of each of these, I wanted a zero level cantrip spell that did one point of damage and a first level spell that did 1d3 points of damage.
After that, I wanted at least one representative spell from each group that was a ranged individual target attack, another that was a close burst attack (such as a ray or cone spell), a ranged burst attack (such as fireball), a trap spell, set off from a predefined trigger, that would produce a close burst effect, and a ranged burst continuous effect spell (such as a cloud that did damage every turn to those within the area of effect). After identifying all of the direct damage spells and filling them into the slots described, I identified a number of spells that needed to be created to fill the gaps.
Furthermore, I wanted the damage from each of these spells to be somewhat standardized. Some spells did a random amount of damage, others used a random amount of damage per level (or level/n). Some had a random amount +n/level. I modified them all to do 1dx damage per y levels up to 5dx max with x and y varying by damage type.
I set Psychic and Thunder spells to 1d4 damage per two levels. Fire, Cold, and Necrotic do 1d6 per three levels. Poison, Lightning, and Radiant do 1d8 per four levels. Acid and Force do 1d10 per five levels.
The spells that do 1d4/two levels have a level two individual attack spell. Those that do 1d6/three levels have a level three individual attack spell. And so on. Each blast spell is two levels higher than the corresponding individual attack spell. The burst spell is two levels higher than the blast. The trap is two levels higher than the burst. And the persistent burst is two levels higher than the trap.
All this results in quite an array of direct damage spells, with all the damage types represented, and various damage delivery systems all appearing throughout quite a range of levels. At least one new direct damage spell now becomes available at each level from 2 to 13.
To mix things up a little, I added a number of other spells as well that use these damage types to have other effects than just direct damage. Thunder spells can create silence zones or stunning effects. Cold spells can slow movement or freeze opponents. Poison spells can weaken or incapacitate without doing any actual damage. It’s quite easy to invent a multitude of alternative spells for this group.
The Hand Spells
There are various Bigby’s Hand spells, and a few other spells (Mage Hand, Spectral Hand, Helping Hand), that are all fairly similar. They needed to be distinguished by assigning a different spell level to each one. With only nine spell levels, this forced the upper limit to be higher than I think was warranted for the spells. Now, with a wider range of spell levels available to choose from, it’s possible to differentiate the spells without forcing any of them so high. I placed each of the Bigby’s Hand spells just one level apart (which would have been one-third of a level apart in the old system). I think this produces a better level placement for these spells.
Wizard Spells vs. Clerical Spells
As I said in the previous article, I did away with spell overlap. All spells are now either Wizard spells or Clerical spells. There are no longer any that are both. This was a little more difficult than I anticipated. There are a few spells that I think of as being “cleric” spells just because they always have been. Even though there wasn’t any overlap, the criteria that I developed clearly put some of these spells in the Wizard’s domain.
The ones that stand out are: Call Lightning, Call Lightning Storm, Helping Hand, Blade Barrier, and any spell that offered spell resistance.
I determined that Radiance and Necrotic energy spells belonged to Clerics while Acid, Cold, Electricity, Fire, Lightning, Poison, Psychic, and Thunder spells belonged to Wizards. Call Lightning and Call Lightning Storm are clearly Lightning spells. Helping Hand is too similar to the other Hand spells to be ignored. Blade Barrier, imo, works better as a Force spell, and the spell resistance spells seem to me to fall better within the control of the Wizard.
To make up for this, I added quite a number of Radiance and Necrotic spells to the Cleric’s arsenal. Plus there were a few Wizard spells that I felt belonged with the Clerical spells.
Some of my level reassignments are more radical than others. Some of these were due to the method I used to evaluate them. Others were due to my personal feeling that a given spell was more appropriate at the level I assigned it. In a very few cases, a spell was assigned a new level solely based on the impact I wanted it to have on the game. Most notably, and certain to be the most controversial, is my decision to make Raise Dead a level five spell. Under my system, that means it can be cast by a level five Cleric.
I could go into an in-depth explanation of why I feel this is beneficial but instead just let me say that I feel that it will make our personal game run more smoothly.
I’ve added quite a few new spells. Plus I’ve gone through every previous edition and identified spells that were removed at one point or another. Some of these are best left removed but a number of them have found their way back into my list.
The most notable new spell, of my own invention, is my Secret Stable spell. It is simply a variation of the Rope Trick spell designed for horses. It creates an extra-dimensional space large enough to stable one medium creature/level comfortably for one day/level. Considering how many times we’ve needed to stable horses at a dungeon entrance, I’m surprised that I hadn’t thought of this earlier.
In going through the old spell lists I was surprised to see just how many spells had been renamed. Many were quite obvious immediately when each new book came out. But quite a few changes slipped under the radar. I’ve gone back through and restored the original spell name to each of these spells. Newer players may prefer the new names but I would rather have the original names for nostalgic reasons.
At one point I made the decision to quit holding back and let the ink fall where it may. I rewrote the majority of the spell descriptions to make sure they matched my vision of each spell. Most of these rewrites were cosmetic but quite a few involved completely overhauling the spell in question. In some cases, I even arbitrarily changed the name of the spell just because I liked my name better.
With the exception of Rituals, I have completely removed material components from all but a small handful of spells. The few spells that retained material components would have been overpowered if there wasn’t some sort of limitation imposed. All spells do, however, require both verbal and somatic components so if a wizard is bound or gagged, she will be unable to cast spells.
So Where Are The Spell Lists?
After some consideration, I’ve decided not to post my modified spell lists just yet. I want to go over them a bit more and spend more time play-testing some of the changes first. I promise that I will post them, along with brief descriptions since many have been changed, as soon as I feel the list is a bit more stable.