This is the fifth, of a number of articles, that describe how to adopt an alternative magic system. As each article assumes that you are familiar with what has come before it, you may wish to start with “Farewell to Vancian Magic“, the first article in the series.
The next few articles relate to making wholesale changes to the spells. These kinds of changes aren’t practical without the benefit of a spell database. Before continuing, you may wish to look over the article on Creating Databases.
Spells Are Not Currently Unique
A number of spells are shared by multiple classes. Even in a game that does not include any house rules, I’ve never liked the fact that different classes could cast the same spell. For wizards and clerics, their usefulness is primarily defined by what spells they can cast. If they can both cast the same spell, it demeans them both by making them both a little less special.
I don’t expect that very many people feel the same way so this will probably be the least popular in this series of posts. However, it is a part of the process, and something I feel is important, so I decided to include it.
In my game, there are only the four traditional classes (fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard). These classes are actually more like skill sets and a character may train in a different one each level. Since characters may train as both clerics and wizards, any argument for a need to have a spell span multiple classes goes out the window.
Making Spells Unique
Assuming you have a spell database, simply sort by name and look for duplicates. Then delete the duplicates, leaving one copy assigned to whichever class you wish. That was easy.
No, nothing is ever that easy. In my case, I only have wizards and clerics. But in most games there are a great many other spell-casting classes. It would be crippling to such a game if there were no shared spells. Instead, it becomes necessary to identify spell-casting groups and limit each spell to one group. For instance, paladins and clerics are both within one group (that uses divine spells). They would both have access to the same spells but neither would share spells with wizards.
I would go a step further and define each spell as having a specific level regardless of which class is casting it.
The Rest Of The Spells
When you go through the duplicates you have to decide what group a spell belongs to (hereafter, I will just differentiate between wizards and clerics but others should separate by groups instead). In doing so, you have to think about why it should be one or the other. To answer that question you need to form some criteria as to what makes a spell arcane or divine. To do that you must look at all the spells and determine what makes them arcane or divine. If you are like me, you will quickly find that this is an extremely daunting task. At this point I came to the conclusion that defining this criteria was far more important to me even than making spells unique. In looking over all the spells, I also discovered that a great many did not (to me) appear to be assigned to the appropriate class.
What Makes a Spell Arcane or Divine?
First off, I looked at damage types. In my game I use: Acid, Cold, Fire, Force, Lightning, Necrotic, Poison, Psychic, Radiant, and Sonic. It occurred to me that if spells were to be unique to each class then damage types must be unique as well. I restricted Radiant and Necrotic energy to clerics and the other damage types to wizards. I later removed Psychic energy from the wizard’s domain and restricted it to Psionics (which are limited to outsiders). It may seem lopsided to give seven damage types to wizards and only two to clerics but (at least with my interpretation of radiant energy) I think it is actually quite balanced.
As an aside, I see wizards as channeling arcane energy and manipulating it to their needs which may manifest in any of a number of damage types. Clerics, on the other hand, channel divine (radiant) energy and manipulate it to their needs which always manifests itself as some form of radiant energy. Clerics may also channel energy from the negative material plane which manifests as necrotic energy. Therefore, radiant and necrotic energy are as diverse as the other damage types combined. They simply are not subdivided, or resisted, separately (as the other types are).
After damage types, I moved on to spells that caused conditions (sleep, charm, stun, paralyze, etc). Every one of these I put firmly within the wizard’s domain. I did the same with spells that affected abilities. I can’t see taking the Strength spell away from wizards which means they get the other ability enhancing spells as well. I did, however, give clerics blesses and curses that affect abilities. That does grey the lines a bit but I rationalized the decision by saying that the abilities weren’t directly affected so much as a blessing or curse was affecting the target’s luck (good or bad) through divine means.
Next, I looked at interplanar travel. Initially, I was sure these must also fall within the wizard’s domain. However, clerics are followers of the gods who dwell in the outer planes. As I thought more about the nature and history of the cosmos in my world, I came to realize that all of these planes were tied so closely to the gods that interplanar travel must be the purview of the clerics.
I make a clear distinction though between planar and dimensional magic. The material plane is a separate plane contained within the Astral Sea. Travel between the material plane and the Astral Sea requires divine magic. But the material plane contains endless dimensions and the magic needed to affect dimensional boundaries belongs to wizards. This magic would include: blink, dimension door, teleport, passwall, leomund’s secret chest, rope trick, etc.
Since spells that access the outer planes (including the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos) are in the cleric’s domain, that means that clerics, not wizards, are responsible for portals to these realms. That would seem to mean that a wizard could not summon a demon, devil, or elemental. However, if the true name of a specific demon or devil (or other outsider) is spoken during an arcane ritual, that creature will hear it’s name and be bound by the spell to appear to the speaker (if it fails its save). Clerics, however, have direct access to these planes and may summon outsiders without knowing their true name.
Elementals are a bit of a special case as all the elements that make up the Material Plane owe their existence to the Elemental Chaos. Therefore, there is already a link (of sorts) between these two planes. Wizards have rituals that take advantage of this link and allow them to summon elementals without needing to know the name of a specific elemental.
Spells That Don’t Seem To Fit In Either Classification
Far more spells than I expected were extremely difficult to pigeon-hole. What I ended up doing was to add an “Exclude” column and liberally fill it with x’s (for each spell I couldn’t manage to assign). This made it easier to go back and verify that the others were split the way I wanted without being distracted by the exceptions that wouldn’t conform to my criteria. Once the bulk of the spells were split and I was confident with the way in which I had split them, I went back and found that many of those exceptions had become easier to place.
Druids and Paladins
As I said, I only have four classes. However, clerics of the neutral gods are referred to as druids. Each cleric is somewhat unique in abilities and spells according to the deity she follows. Druids follow one of two gods of nature (one benevolent to all creatures, the other extreme in the protection of the forests) and have a number of nature-oriented spells. These were the hardest to assign as many of the druidic spells were infringing upon what I had decided to be arcane abilities. What I concluded was that druids could not call down lightning (for instance) but they could control nature and summon storm clouds that would produce lightning. Those kind of distinctions managed to assuage my concerns. I am still concerned that the distinctions may seem too contrived but I naturally wanted to maintain the stereotypical view of the druid as a nature-based cleric.
Paladins don’t exist, per se, but there is a title (not class) of Champion that is similar in concept. Characters must petition through their church, and be accepted, to gain the title of Champion. They must then train as both clerics and fighters and maintain their fighting skill to within one level of (but never higher than) their training as a cleric. Champions, as religious elite, gain additional clerical abilities and access to certain spells that normal clerics do not have.
What Does This Gain us?
The benefit here is somewhat intangible. In my world, where characters may train as both clerics and wizards, spell uniqueness increases the benefit of multi-classing. Beyond that it increases the uniqueness of the class as well, making both wizards and clerics more individualized.
By re-evaluating all the spells, and reassigning them where needed, we gain an increase to the overall structure and consistency of the magic system. If it makes sense for a spell to belong to a particular class, then the whole spell system makes a little more sense and is more believable. If a spell seemingly belongs to the wrong class, it threats the suspension of disbelief and shatters the immersive feeling of the game.