D&D 5e: Wizard School Courses

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A friend suggested he was working on a Harry Potter-style D&D game, with the premise that each level 1-7 was a year of school (not unlike my own previous suggestion to start PCs at higher level). That got me thinking about how to set up a system for taking classes (the most thrilling challenge for any adventurer, I’m sure).

This is primarily meant for a game as described, where the first few levels are reframed as apprenticeship at a Wizard-only school, you level at the end of every school year, and academics feature heavily. But you could also use it in more standard games as a new downtime action for PC Wizards in a location with Wizards interested in training others (customizing for this is discussed more later).

The Coursework

Each course features four Wizard spells. Successful demonstration of each spell from the course is required at finals to get a top mark for the course (with progressively worse marks for being able to demonstrate fewer of the spells). Roughly at the 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and finals sections of the course, you can make an ability check to learn a spell in the course’s sequence (it’s up to the GM whether they have to be learned in course order, with the more valuable spells later in the list, or whether the player can pick the order).

If you start already knowing one or more spells from the sequence, you obviously have more chances to learn the spells you don’t know yet (Hermione Granger carefully arranges her starting spells and free +2 spells per year to always go into new courses with at least one spell already known). At the GM’s option, each course might feature a related extra credit spell that you can get if you learn all four spells and still have a skill check left. Extra credit spells are likely to be spells from non-core books that you want to keep pretty rare but do want your PCs to have an opportunity to learn. For example, Hermione is taking Introductory Abjuration and already learned Mage Armor and Shield as part of her starting loadout (from reading all the books the summer before). She has four chances to learn the remaining two spells, and if she learns them with checks left over, she might have a shot at learning Snare as extra credit.

The difficulty of these checks should probably be 10+Spell Level, unless you want low grades to be more common.

The abilities and skills involved should be somewhat idiosyncratic and based on the teaching style of whatever instructor is teaching the course. Arcana should be the default, the other Int-based skills available to all Wizards (History, Investigation, and Religion) should also be very common. Other proficient or Int-based skills (Insight, Medicine, and Nature) should come up occasionally. The rest of the skills should only come up if you genuinely believe the player will be more amused than annoyed (likely as a joke that everyone winds up with one really hard course in their loads each semester, such as Basics of Motion being a PE course that uses Athletics).

So, for example, a first-year course catalog might look like:

  • Knowing Your Role:
    • Diviner Aleric provides a practical symposium on the basic spells that may be expected of the party’s Wizard.
    • (Arcana; Detect Magic (1), Alarm (1), Feather Fall (1), Sleep (1))
  • Making Friends and Influencing People:
    • Enchantress Bethany gives new students a crash course on social skills and their magical application.
    • (Insight; Unseen Servant (1), Comprehend Languages (1), Charm Person (1), Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1))
  • Introductory Divination:
    • Diviner Aleric provides instruction on the most basic of divination arts for the beginner.
    • (Arcana: Detect Magic (1), Identify (1), Comprehend Languages (1), Find Familiar (1))
  • Introductory Abjuration:
    • Abjurer Clio leads a symposium on how abjuration interacts with priestly magics, and which is stronger.
    • (Religion: Mage Armor (1), Protection from Evil and Good (1), Shield (1), False Life (1))
  • Basic Skullduggery:
    • Daveth the Trickster introduces students to the most common tricks of the underhanded, how to spot them, and how to use them.
    • (Investigation: Expeditious Retreat (1), Illusory Script (1), Charm Person (1), Disguise Self (1))
  • Introduction to Combat Magic:
    • Evoker Elisha will expect you to come prepared to manifest your will in the form of eldritch might!
    • (Arcana: Witch Bolt (1), Magic Missile (1), Chromatic Orb (1), Burning Hands (1))
  • Introduction to Area Effects:
    • Conjurer Franklin will introduce you to the great and storied history of magics that affect an area.
    • (History: Fog Cloud (1), Color Spray (1), Burning Hands (1), Thunderwave (1))
  • Basics of Motion:
    • Dame Gretal expects all students for this course to be in trousers instead of robes and warmed up before class begins.
    • (Athletics: Expeditious Retreat (1), Jump (1), Feather Fall (1), Longstrider (1))
  • Introductory Conjuration:
    • Conjurer Franklin explains the grand history of conjuration, with a particular focus on the life of Tenser.
    • (History: Unseen Servant (1), Tenser’s Floating Disk (1), Grease (1), Fog Cloud (1))
  • Applied Attack and Defense:
    • Evoker Elisha suggests that you take at least one of her classes! You will need them or they will laugh at you!
    • (Arcana: Detect Magic (1), Magic Missile (1), Shield (1), False Life (1))
  • Avoiding Combat:
    • Transmuter Harlowe demonstrates the bodily trauma involved in adventuring, why you should avoid it, and several mechanisms for doing so.
    • (Medicine: Silent Image (1), Fog Cloud (1), Disguise Self (1), Sleep (1))
  • You are Not a Bard:
    • Troubadour Isabel is willing to cross-train those interested in the shared arts, and learn how Bardic magic differs.
    • (Performance: Silent Image (1), Charm Person (1), Longstrider (1), Tasha’s Hideous Laughter (1))
  • You are Not a Druid:
    • Jarek Moonblood will cross-train those interested in the intersection of Druidic and Wizardly magics.
    • (Nature: Detect Magic (1), Jump (1), Longstrider (1), Thunderwave (1))
  • You are Not a Warlock:
    • Kelline Winterbound believes that, if you can find her, she might tell you secrets that are useful to you. But there will be a price.
    • (Investigation: Illusory Script (1), Protection from Evil and Good (1), Comprehend Languages (1), Witch Bolt (1))
  • Introduction to Battlefield Control:
    • Abjurer Clio would like you to reflect on your dominance of the battlefield is like unto godliness.
    • (Religion: Ray of Sickness (1), Chromatic Orb (1), Color Spray (1), Thunderwave (1))

If you’re paying for the courses (either as part of fees for a school game, or for the downtime action in a regular game), the cost of the course should be around 25-50% less than scribing the spells individually (to compensate for chance of failure, increased time, and getting spells you might not want). School specialization should result in gaining Advantage on the roll to learn a spell, rather than half cost.

In a downtime action, the time spent should obviously be highly compressed, though still longer than just scribing the spells individually.

For a school game, each one obviously takes all semester, and maybe a whole year (depending on how many spells you want PCs to know). You should probably also have the skill checks spaced out between multiple courses, rather than rolling for every course in the load at the 25% sections; that way, you get a steady progression throughout the year when you’re not otherwise gaining levels.

Additional Suggested Courses Through 4th Level

Note that the distribution of spells is based on rarity across class lists. Spells that are Wizard-only only appear once in the courses, if they’re on 1-2 other class lists they appear twice, if they’re on 3-5 other lists they appear three times, and if they’re on 6+ other lists they appear four times.

  • Living Your Role: Mage Armor (1), Magic Weapon (2), Scorching Ray (2), Invisibility (2)
  • Surviving the Fight: Protection from Evil and Good (1), Blur (2), Spider Climb (2), Rope Trick (2)
  • Practical Divination: Identify (1), Darkvision (2), Locate Object (2), Detect Thoughts (2)
  • Introduction to Sanctums: Alarm (1), Continual Flame (2), Magic Mouth (2), Arcane Lock (2)
  • Practical Motion: Jump (1), Gust of Wind (2), Levitate (2), Shatter (2)
  • Practical Battlefield Control: Ray of Sickness (1), Blindness/Deafness (2), Crown of Madness (2), Hold Person (2)
  • The Cutting Edge of Arcana: Phantasmal Force (2), Cloud of Daggers (2), Crown of Madness (2), Misty Step (2)
  • Practical Skullduggery: Darkness (2), Alter Self (2), Invisibility (2), Knock (2)
  • Four Types of Pain: Scorching Ray (2), Cloud of Daggers (2), Melf’s Acid Arrow (2), Shatter (2)
  • Practical Illusion: Blur (2), Mirror Image (2), Invisibility (2), Blindness/Deafness (2)
  • Becoming the Primary Target: Ray of Enfeeblement (2), Flaming Sphere (2), Phantasmal Force (2), Suggestion (2)
  • You are Not a Cleric: Gentle Repose (2), Blindness/Deafness (2), Hold Person (2), Locate Object (2)
  • Of Light and Darkness: Darkvision (2), See Invisibility (2), Continual Flame (2), Darkness (2)
  • Practical Transmutation: Alter Self (2), Enlarge/Reduce (2), Magic Weapon (2), Knock (2)
  • Whispers of the Spider Queen: Darkvision (2), Spider Climb (2), Web (2), Suggestion (2)
  • Noun Preposition Noun: Cloud of Daggers (2), Crown of Madness (2), Glyph of Warding (3), Protection from Energy (3)
  • Disciple’s Enchantment: Detect Thoughts (2), Suggestion (2), Fear (3), Hypnotic Pattern (3)
  • Disciple’s Area Effects: Flaming Sphere (2), Shatter (2), Lightning Bolt (3), Fireball (3)
  • Disciple’s Control: Web (2), Hold Person (2), Slow (3), Stinking Cloud (3)
  • Four Weird Tricks: Magic Mouth (2), Blink (3), Major Image (3), Hypnotic Pattern (3)
  • Disciple’s Divination: See Invisibility (2), Locate Object (2), Tongues (3), Clairvoyance (3)
  • Air Magics: Gust of Wind (2), Gaseous Form (3), Sleet Storm (3), Fly (3)
  • Strength and Weakness: Enlarge/Reduce (2), Ray of Enfeeblement (2), Remove Curse (3), Bestow Curse (3)
  • Disciple’s Necromancy: Gentle Repose (2), Feign Death (3), Vampiric Touch (3), Animate Dead (3)
  • Disciple’s Motion: Levitate (2), Slow (3), Haste (3), Fly (3)
  • Disciple’s Illusion: Mirror Image (2), Nystul’s Magic Aura (2), Nondetection (3), Major Image (3)
  • Nope!: Misty Step (2), Dispel Magic (3), Remove Curse (3), Counterspell (3)
  • In Your Face!: Water Breathing (3), Stinking Cloud (3), Tongues (3), Sending (3)
  • Disciple’s Defenses: Dispel Magic (3), Magic Circle (3), Protection from Energy (3), Leomund’s Tiny Hut (3)
  • Special Topics: Scry and Fry: Nondetection (3), Clairvoyance (3), Fireball (3), Haste (3)
  • Disciple’s Abjuration: Magic Circle (3), Glyph of Warding (3), Remove Curse (3), Protection from Energy (3)
  • Special Topics: Verb Nouns: Dispel Magic (3), Bestow Curse (3), Feign Death (3), Animate Dead (3)
  • Special Topics: Adjective Nouns: Phantom Steed (3), Gaseous Form (3), Hypnotic Pattern (3), Vampiric Touch (3)
  • Special Topics: Single-Word Names: Fear (3), Blink (3), Sending (3), Tongues (3)
  • Finding Things and Getting There: Clairvoyance (3), Locate Creature (4), Dimension Door (4), Arcane Eye (4)
  • Adept’s Abjuration: Magic Circle (3), Counterspell (3), Banishment (4), Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum (4)
  • Four Bad Things Done Well: Fear (3), Confusion (4), Blight (4), Banishment (4)
  • Adept’s Transmutation: Water Breathing (3), Polymorph (4), Stoneskin (4), Control Water (4)
  • Special Topics: Faking Your Own Death: Feign Death (3), Water Breathing (3), Dimension Door (4), Polymorph (4)
  • Direct vs. Secondhand Violence: Lightning Bolt (3), Blight (4), Locate Creature (4), Conjure Minor Elementals (4)
  • Adept’s Illusion: Major Image (3), Hallucinatory Terrain (4), Greater Invisibility (4), Phantasmal Killer (4)
  • Fire and Ice: Sleet Storm (3), Ice Storm (4), Wall of Fire (4), Fire Shield (4)
  • Stone Magics: Fabricate (4), Stone Shape (4), Stoneskin (4), Conjure Minor Elementals (4)
  • Special Topics: Terrain Control: Leomund’s Tiny Hut (3), Ice Storm (4), Hallucinatory Terrain (4), Wall of Fire (4)
  • The History of Four Great Wizards: Mordenkainen’s Faithful Hound (4), Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere (4), Leomund’s Secret Chest (4), Evard’s Black Tentacles (4)
  • Putting Your Enemies Off Balance: Dispel Magic (3), Hallucinatory Terrain (4), Polymorph (4), Confusion (4)
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GM Tricks: PC Motivation/Context

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“You meet in a tavern” is a D&D classic. Also a classic: PCs that met in that tavern immediately trying to get one another killed, either subtly or overtly.

Unless what you want is a PvP game, I’ll argue that throwing a group of PCs together cold and expecting them to immediately bond with no real external factors is a fool’s errand. Cold party formations are much more likely to lead to players having less fun as they struggle with the cognitive dissonance of continuing to adventure with characters their character really doesn’t like (even though in-game they could split at any time) because leaving the party means quitting the game. The meta-game problem of “why am I continuing to hang out with this maniac?” is exacerbated when you have no good in-game reason.

Of course, I’m a big proponent of group chargen fixing these problems. Having your players make a balanced group of PCs with existing deep ties means you get to skip a lot of the bad tension. Hell, maybe they did meet in a tavern, but years ago, and have already worked out their major issues and kicked out the real troublemakers. But, either instead of or in addition to the intrinsic ties from this kind of chargen, you can also think very hard as a GM about providing extrinsic motivation and context.

That is, if the player starts to think about whether her character even likes these other characters and wonders why she would continue along with them, there should be an immediate and obvious answer. That way, the player can get back to engaging with the game rather than fantasizing about the adventures she’d rather be going on with characters that her PC likes better doing things that she’s much more interested in.

There are a bunch of easy options to provide this motivation and context:

Shared Patron

A very easy answer is to give the PCs a patron or mentor figure that suggests they all get together. This is more than just the mysterious old wizard they met at the tavern (nobody really gives a damn what Elminster wants them to do). This is instead someone from their backstories that they have a lot of built-up trust with and/or obligation to. It might be multiple people that are, themselves, connected (“your sires suggest you form a coterie” is a classic Vampire motivator).

You can get this patron in a couple of ways. The most organic is to suggest the NPC play a prominent role in the PC’s backstory before getting to the table. If you don’t have time for that kind of seeding, you can also take the more abrupt tactic of, “by the way, Elminster’s helped you out a lot in the past, and you have every reason to trust him. Figure out how that works in your head.” In either case, it’s good to include a pretty strong carrot for the relationship: what ongoing patronage does the PC expect from this character?

The player should have an expectation of beneficial transactions with the patron in the future sufficient to guide behavior. Beyond cash and XP, what does the PC want that the patron can provide? This could be specialized training, introduction to an elite group, and so on: figure out what the player’s long-term character development goals are, and make the patron key to obtaining them.

The most important thing is, even if the relationship with the other PCs is taking a long time to gel, the player can at least justify that her character would keep going because it makes an important patron happy, and she’s not interested in walking away from that relationship.

A caveat for this motivation is that the patron should have some reason why she can’t ever be of much direct help with the adventure. Maybe she’s politically powerful but not very clued-in or adventure-savvy. Maybe she’s rarely available except in snatches because she’s off putting out fires of her own. Maybe she’s flat out prevented from interfering directly due to the larger context. Importantly, what you want is to keep the players from deciding, “hey, if this is so important to our patron, why doesn’t she get her butt out here and help?”

Shared Organization/Home

An even better answer than a single patron (or small group of them) can be to lodge the PCs in an entire organizational structure. The adventuring guild is the most common of these types. WoD games often feature larger political groups, usually with outright group bases. It’s also classic to just say that the PCs are the only adventure-savvy kids from the same small town (which they have a vested interest in keeping safe from various threats).

This tends to change the dynamic of the game to become much more centralized to the home location of the organization. While fine if you’re doing a primarily city-based game, you need to make sure the organization retains the proper shape for longer-distance plots (e.g., a mandate for distant exploration and problem-solving, as typified by the Pathfinders and the Harpers). A small town thieves’ guild could lose motivating importance if the PCs have been months far away with no support.

The organization does everything a patron can do as far as carrots, with the additional bonus that PCs can be incentivized entirely with rank within said organization. It can also help a lot with games that have rotating casts of PCs: the group assigns PCs to the mission (that just happen to be the PCs of the available players), or a group must be formed out of whoever’s at the guildhall this week/in town and not otherwise engaged.

The caveat for patrons is even stronger with organizations. Particularly in a city-based game, there can be a huge push for just going back to the guild and rounding up a posse when the players have identified a threat that seems dangerous enough that they don’t want to just rush in to engage it. And while it’s pretty easy to explain why a single patron can’t help, it’s much harder to explain why, in this big group of adventuring types, nobody can spare a moment to help when it’s clear that the threat has become more serious than first believed and threatens the whole town. One trick to avoid this is time-sensitivity: by the time the PCs have identified the threat, it should often be risky to take the time to go back and round up additional aid, because the bad guys will advance their plots much further in the interim. Another is to simply structure your adventures so calling in the cavalry is an acceptable solution when time isn’t a factor, at a cost to the PCs in XP and loot because everyone else from the guild is going to get a share. As long as the players are in control of whether or not to call in the big guns, they probably won’t begrudge a big final battle being turned into a narration about how the combined might of the guild crushes the problem.

Another problem unique to this setup is the tendency to lose party agency. When part of a larger organizational structure that regularly gives them missions, your players are going to become less prone to self-determination. There will be a drive of, “we brought the plot to the attention of the guild, and if they want us to pursue it further, they’ll tell us how.” There really isn’t a good fix for this if your organization has a command structure, other than a mid-campaign crisis where the command structure is obliterated and the PCs have to take charge (which obviously opens up its own issues of the resources now available to the PCs). Just make sure that’s the kind of game you’re comfortable running.

Mutual Enemy/Problem

Perhaps the leanest solution is for the group to share an issue that they need to solve for their own reasons. “You get to talking and realize you all want to punch the same guy in the face,” is a very simple start for a campaign. You can even do short solo introductions where you just let the players play out their previously idyllic lives until the villain shows up and does them wrong in an on-screen way.

A slower burn version of this is the “we were all working the same case” angle, where each of the PCs’ backstory motivators winds up all pointing at the same problem. One PCs’ dead parents were killed by the guy that kidnapped the next PC’s brother and is living in the ancient temple the third PC has sworn to reconsecrate. This can be harder to set up than it being obvious who did them all wrong, because you have to figure out a reason for them to actually share information rather than constantly ignoring one another (or fighting one another then running away when they show up at the same investigative location that you thought would bring them together). A brief dip into the patron motivation isn’t a bad idea in this case: an NPC party that also has a related issue isn’t really an adventurer, but has done enough research to identify the PCs and suggest everyone work together with her funding to deal with the problem.

The caveat for this is a big one: if the problem isn’t the end-of-campaign villain, there’s a risk that the party won’t gel by the time the issue is solved to at least one PC’s satisfaction. “Well I rescued my brother… good luck to all of you, we’re going home.” By the time the initial problem is close to being solved, you need to have gotten several other campaign hooks into the PCs so they’ll be inclined to continue past their stated goal. Or you need to be fine with PCs getting subbed in and out as these mini-goals are completed (likely with rules for replacing your PC with one of equivalent power, so players aren’t afraid to lose progress).

Hunted/Outcasts

This can just be the strong form of the previous motivator: someone’s sending assassins after the PCs, and they need to band together to punch people until the assassination attempts stop. But in a broader motivating sense, this speaks to something innate to the PCs that sets them apart from others and, consequently, drives them together. The classic X-Men plot, and also seen as a key motivator for Baldur’s Gate, there’s something about the PCs that inspires others to hunt them. Maybe they are hated and feared. Maybe they hold a secret power that others want to kill them to steal. Maybe both.

With this motivation, the game is strongly colored by the problem. Every interaction is colored by the fact that the PCs are other, whether or not the NPC realizes it. When there are many powers in the world seeking to kill or capture them, logically even friendly encounters become tinged with the worry that they’ll trigger some kind of alert that brings their antagonists back down on them. And the thrust of the campaign inevitably becomes solving for the problem or transcending it, rather than any other central goal. You can’t just use this as an excuse to put the party together and then expect them to go off on typical quests to slay princesses and rescue dragons without those quests being informed by the greater context of what drives them together.

Trapped

Finally, if your campaign supports it, you can just start with the PCs being trapped somewhere together. This can simply be the start of one of the other motivations (e.g., beginning with being imprisoned and then hunted after escaping, a Usual Suspects introduction to a powerful patron, or establishing the enemy that had them falsely imprisoned in the first place). But it can also be a major leg of the campaign itself.

As its own thing, the important factor is that the PCs are cut off from broader civilization, and are the only adventure-savvy folks that can investigate the problem. Common tropes involve shipwrecks, avalanches, unexpected transport to alternate dimensions/worlds, and just being in prison as a long-term plot. This can also be a fine introduction to a megadungeon (as the PCs get stuck on the wrong side of a cave-in, and now have to explore the whole complex for an alternate way out instead of just going back to the nearby town). Importantly, the reason the PCs don’t just leave is because they physically can’t. They’re stuck with each other, whether or not they like anyone in the group.

As with all the other short-term methods, if escaping isn’t the whole point of the campaign you need to put in other story hooks before the PCs get out to keep them together long-term.

Others?

Have any other motivators that I missed that you’ve used to success in the past? Please let me know in the comments.

Star Wars: The Force Meddles

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This article contains spoilers for The Last Jedi (and likely other Star Wars films).

A significant difference, in my mind, between Star Wars and Star Trek is how many story-moving coincidences I’m willing to accept. If, in the course of Star Trek, a main character transports to a random planet and happens to land a brief foot chase away from other significant characters, I’ll be pulled out of the film. I reject narratives where things happen because they’re convenient to the narrative, even though they’d be extremely unlikely if the world operated on its own consistent internal logic. I don’t require much explanation for events, but a lampshade at minimum on the audacity of the coincidence is appreciated. Things that just occur for no reason other than they’re needed to advance the plot feel lazy.

Except, that is, in Star Wars. Both BB-8 and Finn happen to stumble on Rey within a foot chase from the Millennium Falcon? Sure. The Force did it. The Force meddles. It binds us and penetrates us. It wants interesting things to happen, and interesting people to get together. The Force is an extremely useful bit of universe physics for keeping your narrative lean. In general, the language of most of the films goes even further: the Force loves a hero*. If you try to do the right thing, even when things look bleak, it will turn out alright if you just stick it out. The Force is a great explanation for player narrative currency like Fate Points, Bennies, etc.

So it took me a while to pin down why The Last Jedi felt jarring to me. It ultimately came down to feeling like the film had suddenly forgotten the meddling Force. Poe and Finn were doing the right thing as hard and righteously as possible, and things were not turning out well for them. In fact, DJ showing up in Finn and Rose’s cell right when they needed one of the best slicers in the galaxy seemed like even more of an unexplained coincidence than the films have ever tried before, and it was not in their favor. Leia and Holdo berated Poe for his heroism as if he was not aware that he was living in a pulp universe where making the safe play was usually unnecessary. Why had the Force forsaken them? Why had Leia and Holdo missed that Poe, like the audience, was aware of his place in a universe running on pulp story logic?

And the way I came up with to explain it is meaningful for Star Wars tabletop games if it also makes sense to you.

What was different about The Last Jedi, as opposed to most other media in the series where we’ve seen strange coincidences abound in the support of our heroes was one simple fact: when everything was going wrong for Finn, Rose, and Poe, no Force sensitives were conscious and focused on their efforts.

Most previous film sequences of pulp derring-do feature at least one Force sensitive on the team, being rescued by the team, or both. Poe has experienced years of missions where reckless actions get supported by last-second coincidences in his favor, and he’s never once thought about the fact that Leia was on the comms willing his success. The Force is basically the Secret: Force sensitives put their needs as silent prayers out into the universe, and the Force does what it can to help out. During The Last Jedi, when everything is going wrong, the only Force sensitives paying a lick of attention to our heroes are on the First Order team. No wonder the one big coincidence isn’t in their favor. Leia would really like Poe to realize that the vast majority of people don’t see their heroism constantly rewarded, and he can’t count on her always being around letting him skirt the rules of causality. (Plus, things more or less turning out okay also doesn’t mean a bunch of people won’t die in the attempt.)

And this has obvious ramifications for Star Wars games:

  • In the strong form, you might limit narrative currency spends to only be available when fulfilling the goals of your team’s Force sensitives. If your Jedi doesn’t care, you can’t spend points to make it happen. This obviously makes Jedi even more powerful and more central, so I don’t necessarily recommend it, but list it for completeness.
  • In the moderate form, Force sensitives on the team increase everyone’s narrative resource refresh rate. This could be a good enough benefit that my previous advice to make Force Sensitive a 0-point trait is too cheap, and it should be priced higher. A Force sensitive on your team, even if she isn’t a Jedi, improves everyone’s access to convenient coincidences.
  • In the weakest form, the GM can simply consider the array of Force sensitive intentions surrounding an issue to affect the chance of favorable or unfavorable coincidences. When a lot of Force users are concentrating on something from multiple sides, things can get weird.

 

* To steal and paraphrase from a popular local LARP where it was Death who loved heroes

Stranger Chargen

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(This shouldn’t contain any particular spoilers for Stranger Things 2.)

Watching Stranger Things, like with many large-ensemble sci-fi shows, the first place my brain goes is, if this was an RPG, how are the PCs distributed? That is, traditional ensembles work like traditional RPGs, in that there is a smallish group that often gets together, and even when they split up you feel like it’s one protagonist per player. However, in large ensembles, it can be vanishingly rare for the whole group to do anything together. Instead, the action is constantly flipping between different groups, and you can begin to wonder whether, modeled in an RPG, this would be each player portraying more than one protagonist, with each player swapping PCs as the scene demands it. Why do two protagonists rarely get screen time together? Because they’re being played by the same player, and the GM tries to keep doubling up your own PCs in a scene from happening.

So this is a method for generating a Stranger Things-esque set of PC concepts for troupe-style play. Each player winds up making three PCs from different age brackets, with the intention that the GM will be running several events concurrently that will be handled by different sets of PCs. When something comes up, you play the PC that’s most appropriate or, if that PC is already busy, whichever PC you have remaining that could conceivably participate.

This is purely a character concept-generation method. You can use any system desired once you’ve settled on concepts.

The Brackets and Archetypes

There are four age brackets:

  • Youngest: Adolescent of 11-13
  • Younger: Young teen of 13-15
  • Older: Teen of 15-19
  • Oldest: Grownup of 20+

In the course of concept generation, you’ll pitch a concept for each bracket and then lose one of them, so the age range allows you to adjust the character’s final age to fit in better with the other PCs in the same tier. For example, if two players keep their Youngest and two players only have a Younger character, the middle school characters are probably all around 13.

This should make more sense in a minute.

There are also four archetypes:

  • Charismatic: If you’re still in school, you’re a popular kid. If you’re an adult, you’re socially adept.
  • Athletic: If you’re still in school, you’re a jock. If you’re an adult, you have physical (likely including combat) competence.
  • Smart: If you’re still in school, you’re a nerd. If you’re an adult, you have mental advantages.
  • Talented: If you’re still in school, you’re an arty kid or other performer. If you’re an adult, you have some kind of interesting skill specialty.

As with the brackets, you’ll pitch a concept for each archetype, then lose one of them.

You’ll wind up mixing and matching the brackets and archetypes. For example, you might initially pitch a popular adolescent (Charismatic/Youngest), a jock teen (Athletic/Younger), a nerdy older teen (Smart/Older), and an interestingly-skilled adult (Talented/Oldest).

You can obviously change out the brackets and archetypes to make more sense for your game, but these seem appropriate to me for a directly Stranger Things-inspired game.

The Special Character

You can skip this step if you don’t want to have any of the players with a powered character.

This step is the most significant chance for the players to have input on what type of weirdness is going to be present in the game, as the GM will have to adapt to the final special character chosen.

Each player picks one bracket and archetype combo (if you have four players, you can randomly distribute them if desired), then details a supernatural character concept for that combo. This should be an extremely high concept of around a sentence, just enough to give the other players an idea of what kind of powers and attitude you’d be bringing if you get to play the special character.

For example:

  • Charismatic/Youngest: A young, sidhe-like being that has wandered into the school and quickly used her glamour to become incredibly popular, but who is still learning what it means to be human
  • Athletic/Younger: A mutant that’s gaining strength, invulnerability, and all of that with puberty, and is trying to keep his abilities under wraps while the school sports team increasingly relies on him
  • Smart/Older: A picked-on girl that has been developing psychic powers and is fighting the temptation to use them to punish all the other kids in high school that have done her wrong over the years
  • Talented/Oldest: Despite his business card, nobody really believes that the new private investigator in town is a wizard, but he totally is

Each player votes privately to the GM, ranking the choices starting at 1 (favorite) and going up in order to least favorite. Players should skip their own characters when voting. Total up the numbers for each concept. The one with the lowest total gets to be the Special Character for the game.

The Troupe

Each* player comes up with four non-supernatural concepts, once for each bracket and archetype (combine them however you want).

* The player that got to keep the Special Character uses that character for that bracket/archetype combo.

Your pitch for each character concept should include one sentence each for:

  • Why is this character cool?
  • What’s a rumor going around about this character?
  • What’s the character’s biggest problem?

If you’re playing the Special Character, include it and expand it with the same questions.

For example, one player’s pitches might look like:

  • Charismatic/Older: He’s the nicest guy in school, and one of the best looking, so he’s very popular despite being from a low income family. There are always at least half a dozen girls that people think he’s sleeping with. Secretly, though, he’s gay and trying to figure out how to come out.
  • Athletic/Oldest: She’s a former Olympic triathlete that’s in the National Guard, and is also the gym coach. Obviously, the rumor is that she’s a lesbian. Her problem is really, though, that it’s hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in this small 80s town anyway that she’s worried dating openly would ruin what cred she’s assembled.
  • Smart/Youngest: He’s a child savant who’s extremely gifted with math. Everyone thinks his parents are some kind of cult, or government agents, or eugenicists that did something weird to get a kid this smart. He’s in a huge fight with his parents where they want him to keep going to school with kids his own age and get socialized properly, and he just wants to skip some grades.
  • Talented/Younger: He’s a comic artist that’s talented beyond his young years, and is just counting the days before he can run off to illustrate for Marvel or DC. Everyone at school calls him Pirate, because the rumor is that he has a wooden leg. Actually, he just has reduced mobility and keeps it covered because of all the nasty scars from the terrible abuse his bio-dad put him through; he lives in constant dread of his father’s return.

As with the Special Character, the other players vote. Rank each other player’s pitches from 1-4 from the one you’re most interested in seeing that player portray to the one that you’re the least interested in. Turn your votes in to the GM, who will add up the totals.

Each player should now have his or her pitches ranked from low to high, based on how the other players ranked the concepts. Discard the one with the most points (most of the other players ranked that one as least interesting). The one with the least points (most interesting) is now your focal character (the one that will get the most initial plots, and which will be called out by later stages in the process). If somehow the Special Character got voted out, vote out that player’s third concept instead.

Linking Characters

Arrange your concepts from youngest remaining to oldest remaining. The youngest you have is your Middle School character. The middle one is your High School character. The oldest is your Adult character.

Compare all the Middle School characters. Are they friends? Just acquaintances? Figure out their ages and relationships to one another. If anyone is outright antagonistic, it should be a superficial problem that can be overcome/put aside as an icebreaker in the first session. These characters will wind up adventuring together a lot early on.

Repeat that process for the High School and Adult characters.

Now go around the table and make ties to each player’s focal character. The first player picks another player’s non-focal character from a different age group (e.g., if your focal character is in Middle School, pick another player’s non-focal character from High School or Adult). Work together to establish a strong tie (probably siblings or parent/child) between the characters. Repeat this for each player around the table.

Go around again, and each player should suggest a concept for an antagonist NPC for his or her focal character. This should be a sentence or two describing why the characters don’t get along and broadly sketching the antagonist. The GM will further flesh this antagonist out (and come up with ways that that character might have further positive or negative relationships to the rest of the group).

The players should have one more general discussion to decide whether any more links make sense (all the characters shouldn’t be incredibly tightly linked, but there might be a couple more family relationships or weird connections that the group wants to establish).

Now work on actually fleshing out each character’s stats and expanded background (as desired). Players should collaborate on anything that reflects their closely linked characters (e.g., if you’re siblings or parent/child, you should work together on last name and home situation).

Running the Game

Overall, the GM should be working to have a lot going on at any one time. Especially early on in a scenario, it should be disconnected enough that the different groups don’t necessarily think to loop the other groups in on it. At other times, it’s obviously all connected, but the whole group needs to split up to tackle multiple problems at once. The natural distrust/dismissal between age groups should serve to keep things naturally firewalled as well (the adults aren’t going to believe the kids about something, and the kids don’t want to have their cool thing taken from them even if they did).

Play should alternate between active groupings with frequent “Meanwhile…” scene changes at good moments (cliffhangers preferred). Players should try to keep good track of what each of their characters knows, and avoid metagaming. Part of the fun of this kind of game is the dramatic irony of feeling like you, as a player, have a better view of the big picture than any of your characters do. Keep in mind, if one of your characters gets screwed, or even killed, by being uninformed, you still have two others to play.

Speaking of which, death can be even more on the table for this type of game than for one-PC-per-player games in the same genre. Killing off or otherwise sidelining a PC leaves the player with plenty of ability to continue to roleplay. The player can look into taking over an NPC or introducing an entirely new character to replace the lost PC at the beginning of the next scenario.

D&D 5e Scaling Spells, 4th-8th

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Continued from last week, here are the rest of the spells cast at higher level. As with the previous set, arguments about my choices are welcome in the comments.

Level 4 Spells

  • Arcane Eye: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the eye can move an additional 10 feet per action for each slot level above 4th.
  • Black Tentacles: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the damage dealt by the tentacles increases by 1d6 for each slot level above 4th.
  • Compulsion: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the range of the spell increases by 10 feet for each slot level above 4th.
  • Control Water: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 10 minutes for each slot level above 4th.
  • Death Ward: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.
  • Dimension Door: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can transport one additional passenger (who must also be within 5 feet of you) for each slot level above 4th.
  • Fabricate: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can add four additional 5-foot cubes worth of space to the final large object for each slot level above 4th. Additionally, if you cast this spell with a slot of 6th level or higher you can include stone in the construction of a large object, and if you cast it with a slot of 8th level or higher you can include metal in the construction of a large object.
  • Faithful Hound: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 4 hours and the damage dealt by the hound increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 4th.
  • Fire Shield: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 10 minutes for each slot level above 4th.
  • Freedom of Movement: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.
  • Giant Insect: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the creatures transformed by this spell gain temporary hit points. Divide 20 hit points for each slot level above 4th as evenly as possible among the transformed creatures.
  • Greater Invisibility: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.
  • Guardian of Faith: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the damage dealt by the guardian increases by 10 for each slot level above 4th. Additionally, the damage dealt before the guardian vanishes increases by 30 for each slot level above 4th.
  • Hallucinatory Terrain: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the area of the spell increases by 50 feet on each side of the cube for each slot level above 4th.
  • Locate Creature: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 4th.
  • Polymorph: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th.
  • Resilient Sphere: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the range of the spell increases by 30 feet for each slot level above 4th.
  • Secret Chest: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, for the duration of the spell the chest’s interior dimensions increase beyond its physical size, allowing it to store more material. The space available for storage increases by 6 cubic feet for each slot level above 4th. If the spell ends while more is stored within the chest than should be physically possible, the excess contents disgorge themselves into the space around the chest.
  • Stone Shape: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can shape one additional 5 foot cube of stone for each slot level above 4th.
  • Stoneskin: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 4th. The material component cost of the spell increases proportionately to the number of creatures affected.

Level 5 Spells

  • Antilife Shell: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 5th.
  • Awaken: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases by 2 hours for each slot level above 5th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Contagion: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, you may target an additional creature for each slot level above 5th. You gain a number of rounds equal to the number of targets in which you may use your action to touch an additional creature in melee range to become affected by the spell.
  • Dispel Evil and Good: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, you may gain an additional use of the spell’s special functions for each slot level above 5th without ending the spell early.
  • Dream: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the damage of the nightmare version of the spell increases by 2d6 for each slot level above 5th.
  • Greater Restoration: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, an additional effect or exhausted level can be removed for each slot level above 5th. The material component cost of the spell increases proportionately to the number of additional effects or exhausted levels removed.
  • Hallow: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases by 6 hours for each slot level above 5th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Legend Lore: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases by two and a half minutes for each slot level above 5th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Mislead: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 30 minutes for each slot level above 5th. Additionally, if cast using a slot of 9th level, the invisibility counts as Greater Invisibility, so is not ended if you attack or cast a spell.
  • Passwall: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 5th. Instead, you may choose to leave the duration unaffected and increase the maximum depth of the opening by 10 feet for each slot level above 5th.
  • Raise Dead: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases by 15 minutes for each slot level above 5th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Reincarnate: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases by 15 minutes for each slot level above 5th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Scrying: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 30 minutes for each slot level above 5th.
  • Seeming: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 4 hours for each slot level above 5th.
  • Telekinesis: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the range of the spell increases by 30 feet for each slot level above 5th.
  • Telepathic Bond: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 30 minutes for each slot level above 5th.
  • Teleportation Circle: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 round for each slot level above 5th (you may voluntarily close it early if desired, from either side of the portal). Additionally, the casting time of the spell decreases to 1 minute with a 6th level slot, to 6 rounds with a 7th level slot, to 3 rounds with an 8th level slot, and to 1 action with a 9th level slot.
  • Tree Stride: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the range of the spell increases for each slot level above 5th. At 6th level, the range becomes 1 mile, at 7th level it becomes 20 miles, at 8th level it becomes 100 miles, and at 9th level it becomes unlimited within the same plane or world. Instead of knowing the location of all trees within the extended range, you know the location of all trees of the same kind within 500 feet of your intended destination (and cannot complete the round of travel if you chose a location that was not within 500 feet of a tree of the same kind).
  • Wall of Force: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 5 minutes for each slot level above 5th. Additionally, if cast using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the spell no longer requires Concentration (buy you may still end it early if desired).
  • Wall of Stone: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the number of panels created by the spell increases by 5 panels for each slot level above 5th.

Level 6 Spells

  • Blade Barrier: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the damage dealt to creatures in the wall’s area increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 6th.
  • Contingency: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 5 days for each slot level above 6th.
  • Eyebite: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, targets that fail a saving throw against the spell also take 1d10 necrotic damage for each slot level above 6th.
  • Find the Path: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 12 hours for each slot level above 6th. Additionally, if you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, it no longer requires concentration.
  • Flesh to Stone: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 6th.
  • Forbiddance: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the number of days required before the effect becomes Until Dispelled decreases by 1 for each slot level above 6th (e.g., it only requires 10 days of casting this at 9th level before it becomes effectively permanent).
  • Guards and Wards: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the number of days required before the effect becomes Until Dispelled decreases by 4 for each slot level above 6th (e.g., it only requires one month of casting this at 9th level before it becomes effectively permanent).
  • Harm: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the damage dealt by the spell increases by 3d6 for each slot level above 6th.
  • Heroes’ Feast: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the number of creatures that can partake of the feast increases by 6 for each slot level above 6th.
  • Irresistible Dance: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 6th.
  • Magic Jar: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, if the spell expires in a way that would cause you to die while possessing a body, there is a chance that you instead permanently take over the possessed body (causing the soul of the body to die in your stead). This chance is equal to 25% for each slot level above 6th.
  • Move Earth: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 6th.
  • Planar Ally: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the casting time of the spell decreases to 1 minute with a 7th level slot, to 4 rounds with an 8th level slot, and to 1 action with a 9th level slot.
  • Programmed Image: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the performance duration increases by 2 minutes for each slot level above 6th.
  • Sunbeam: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the damage dealt by the spell increases by 1d8 for each slot level above 6th.
  • Transport via Plants: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 round for each slot level above 6th (you may voluntarily close it early if desired, from either side of the transportation).
  • True Seeing: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 6th.
  • Wind Walk: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, the flying speed granted by the spell increases by 100 feet for each slot level above 6th.
  • Word of Recall: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 7th level or higher, you can target three additional creatures for each slot level above 6th.

Level 7 Spells

  • Arcane Sword: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the sword can move 40 feet instead of 20. When you cast it using a spell slot of 9th level, all the sword’s attacks gain Advantage.
  • Divine Word: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, each of the current hit point limits on the spell’s chart increases by 10 hit points for each slot level above 7th (e.g., at 9th level creatures with 70 hit points or fewer can be Deafened down to creatures with 40 hit points or fewer can be killed instantly).
  • Finger of Death: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the damage dealt by the spell increases by 2d8 for each slot level above 7th.
  • Fire Storm: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the damage dealt by the spell increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 7th.
  • Forcecage: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 1 hour for each slot level above 7th.
  • Magnificent Mansion: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases by 24 hours for each slot level above 7th.
  • Mirage Arcane: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level, the casting time of the spell becomes 1 minute. When you cast it using a spell slot of 9th level, the casting time becomes 1 action.
  • Plane Shift: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the number of creatures that can be transported increases by 4 for each slot level above 7th.
  • Prismatic Spray: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level, the damage dice used by the damaging rays become d8s. When you cast it using a spell slot of 9th level, the damage dice become d10s.
  • Project Image: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, Intelligence (Investigation) checks to reveal the illusion gain Disadvantage. When you cast it using a spell slot of 9th level, it no longer requires Concentration (though you can still end it whenever desired).
  • Regenerate: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the initial hit points healed increase by 4d8 for each slot level above 7th.
  • Resurrection: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, it automatically destroys and then resurrects a touched mindless, corporeal undead. When you cast it using a spell slot of 9th level, it destroys and resurrects a touched intelligent, corporeal undead if the target fails a Charisma saving throw (the target can choose to fail this saving throw automatically).
  • Reverse Gravity: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, you can exclude four targets (creatures or objects) from the effect for each slot level above 7th. These targets do not have to start within the area or remain in it to preserve this exclusion.
  • Sequester: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, you can target one additional creature or object for each slot level above 7th. All targets to be affected must be in physical contact at the casting of the spell.
  • Simulacrum: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the casting time decreases by 6 hours for each slot level above 7th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Symbol: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the casting time decreases by 5 rounds for each slot level above 7th (to a minimum of 1 action at 9th level).
  • Teleport: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 8th level or higher, the number of creatures that can be transported increases by 4 for each slot level above 7th.

Level 8 Spells

  • Animal Shapes: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the targets no longer have to be willing. Unwilling targets receive a Charisma saving throw to avoid the transformation.
  • Antimagic Field: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, you can anchor the area on a specific point in space rather than on yourself, and it no longer requires Concentration to maintain. At the DM’s option, regular use of this spell on the same area over time may result in an effectively permanent antimagic zone.
  • Antipathy (Sympathy): When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the casting time becomes 1 action but the duration is reduced to 1 minute.
  • Clone: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the time to reach maturity decreases to 90 days.
  • Control Weather: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the time for new conditions to take effect decreases to 1d4 x 5 minutes, and the duration increases to Concentration up to 12 hours.
  • Demiplane: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the created door to the demiplane is also affected by Arcane Lock as if cast with a 9th level spell slot.
  • Earthquake: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, you can designate up to 6 creatures that automatically succeed at all saving throws related to the spell.
  • Feeblemind: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the target gains Disadvantage on the saving throw.
  • Glibness: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, you may cast this on a touched willing target instead of yourself.
  • Holy Aura: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, attackers have Disadvantage on the Constitution saving throw to avoid being Blinded.
  • Incendiary Cloud: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the damage dice of the spell are d10s.
  • Maze: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the target has Disadvantage on the Intelligence check to escape the maze.
  • Mind Blank: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, you can affect an additional target with the same casting.
  • Power Word Stun: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the spell can affect a target of 200 hit points or fewer.
  • Sunburst: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 9th level, the damage dice of the spell are d8s.

D&D 5e Scaling Spells, 1st-3rd

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One of my favorite mechanics in D&D 5e is the scaling spells. No need to have a bunch of copies that just do the same thing, only at a higher spell level, when you can just have a lower level one improve when cast with a higher level slot. However, I remain baffled by spells that don’t have a scaling mechanic. Especially when playing a Warlock, spells that don’t make full use of your pact magic seem much less useful than ones that do. But most other casters are also often strapped for spells known, such that low-level spells that let you get full use out of your higher level slots for which you might not have a lot of appropriate level spells known are very helpful.

So this is just me going through and trying to tack an At Higher Levels tag for every spell that doesn’t have one and isn’t a ritual. I went for brevity whenever possible, so admittedly a lot of these scale so linearly that they probably aren’t worth that much at much higher slot levels (but at least they’ll do something more than with a base slot). I’m also purely eyeballing the math, so I welcome arguments in the comments about why I’ve made something unbalanced with the scaling effect.

Level 1 Spells

  • Detect Evil and Good: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the range of the perception increases 10 feet for each slot level above 1st.
  • Detect Poison and Disease: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the range of the perception increases 10 feet for each slot level above 1st.
  • Disguise Self: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 30 minutes for each slot level above 1st.
  • Divine Favor: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level, the damage increases to 2d4 radiant. For each additional two spell levels, increase the damage by one die (to a maximum of 5d4 when using a 9th level spell slot).
  • Entangle: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level, all creatures restrained by the spell take 1d4 bludgeoning damage per round as they are crushed by the vines. The damage increases by one die for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Expeditious Retreat: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 5 minutes for each slot level above 1st.
  • Faerie Fire: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, all creatures affected by the spell take 1d4 fire damage per round as they are burned by the light. The damage increases by one die for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Feather Fall: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the spell can affect two additional targets for each slot level above 1st.
  • Goodberry: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the spell produces five additional berries for each slot level above 1st.
  • Grease: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the grease becomes highly flammable. If ignited (deliberately or by any area of effect fire attack), all creatures in the grease take 1d4 fire damage at the end of their turns (1d6 if they are prone), applied after the check to fall prone. This damage increases by one die for each slot level above 2nd. The fire burns until the spell expires or extinguished (by an effect that can douse a large, hot fire).
  • Hideous Laughter: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target on additional creature for each slot level above 1st. The creatures must be within 30 feet of each other when you target them.
  • Jump: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.
  • Mage Armor: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.
  • Protection from Evil and Good: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.
  • Sanctuary: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.
  • Shield: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, a residual protection from the shield grants you 3 temporary hit points that last for 10 minutes. These temporary hit points increase by 3 for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Shield of Faith: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 1st.
  • Silent Image: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 10 minutes for each slot level above 1st.

Level 2 Spells

  • Alter Self: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 30 minutes for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Arcane Lock: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, any Knock spell must be cast at the same or greater slot level to suppress the lock.
  • Arcanist’s Magic Aura: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the number of days required before the effect becomes Until Dispelled decreases by 1 for each slot level above 3rd (e.g., it only requires 10 days of casting this at 5th level before it becomes effectively permanent).
  • Barkskin: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Blur: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd. In addition, when cast using a spell slot of 5th level or higher, the spell no longer requires Concentration.
  • Calm Emotions: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Continual Flame: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the material cost of the spell decreases by 7 gp for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Darkness: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the spell suppresses any light spells cast at the same or lower slot level.
  • Darkvision: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Detect Thoughts: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Enlarge/Reduce: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Enthrall: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Find Steed: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the steed’s maximum hit points increase by 5 for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Find Traps: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you gain more information about the traps present. At 3rd level, you learn the distance in feet to the closest trap you’ve detected. For each slot level above 3rd, you learn the distance to the next closest trap (e.g., the three closest traps at 5th level).
  • Gust of Wind: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the distance targets are pushed increases 5 feet for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Knock: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, it can suppress Arcane Lock effects cast at the same or lower slot level.
  • Lesser Restoration: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can end an additional disease or condition (on the same creature or on multiple creatures you can touch) for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Levitate: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the weight limit of the target increases 300 pounds for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Locate Object: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the range the object can be from you increases 1000 feet for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Mirror Image: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd. Additionally, you can spend a bonus action to recover an illusory duplicate that has been destroyed; you can recover one such duplicate per casting of the spell for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Misty Step: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you are also affected by Blur (cast at two slot levels lower than the slot level used).
  • Pass without Trace: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 hour for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Protection from Poison: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can neutralize an additional poison and/or affect an additional creature you can touch for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Ray of Enfeeblement: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the spell also deals 1d10 necrotic damage for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Rope Trick: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 hour for each slot level above 2nd.
  • See Invisibility: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 hour for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Spider Climb: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Spike Growth: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage dealt to creatures moving increases by 1d4 for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Suggestion: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Warding Bond: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, you can have any self-only spells or any touch spells that you cast upon yourself instead affect your bonded target. The spell must use a slot level equal to or lower than the slot level used for Warding Bond – 2 (e.g., if you cast this at 3rd level, you can only have spells cast at 1st level affect the target).
  • Web: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 hour for each slot level above 2nd. Additionally, burning the webs also deals an additional 1d4 fire damage for each slot level above 2nd.
  • Zone of Truth: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the radius of the zone increases by 10 feet for for each slot level above 2nd. Additionally, the duration of the spell increases 5 minutes for each slot level above 2nd.

Level 3 Spells

  • Beacon of Hope: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the range of the spell increases 30 feet for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Blink: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you may choose to add or subtract 1 for each slot level above 3rd to each d20 roll to determine if you vanish (e.g., at 6th level, you may modify the roll by +3 or -3 depending on whether you do or do not wish to vanish at the current time).
  • Clairvoyance: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 10 minutes for each slot level above 3rd. Additionally, the range of the spell increases 1 mile for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Create Food and Water: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the amount of food increases by enough to sustain nine additional humanoids or three steeds for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Daylight: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the spell dispels darkness effects cast at a lower slot level than the chosen slot level for Daylight. Additionally, the radius of the spell increases by 20 feet for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Fear: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the spell additionally deals 1d10 Psychic damage to every target that fails the saving throw (half damage on a successful save) for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Gaseous Form: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Haste: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Hypnotic Pattern: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, for each slot level above 3rd creatures affected by the spell ignore one source of damage or action used to shake them awake.
  • Nondetection: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 8 hours for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Phantom Steed: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 1 hour for each slot level above 3rd. Additionally, if cast using a slot of at least 5th level, the steed can travel on water, ice, or mud as if it were solid ground (ignoring difficult terrain from these and similar sources). Finally, if cast using a slot of at least 7th level, the steed can Fly (as the spell) for the duration of the Phantom Steed spell.
  • Plant Growth: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the area affected by the first application of the spell count as if it was under the effects of Entangle (cast at 3 slot levels lower than the casting of Plant Growth), and the second application of the spell has its casting time reduced by 1 hour per slot level above 3rd.
  • Protection from Energy: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Remove Curse: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature or object for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Revivify: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the creature heals 2d8 additional hit points for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Sending: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the message can be increased by 15 words for each slot level above 3rd. Additionally, if cast using a slot of at least 6th level, you can immediately make one more twenty-five word followup message to the target after the target’s reply.
  • Sleet Storm: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, creatures that fail the Dexterity save to remain standing take 1d4 cold damage for each slot level above 3rd (half damage on a successful save).
  • Slow: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target three additional creatures for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Speak with Dead: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can ask the creature two additional questions for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Speak with Plants: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the duration of the spell increases 5 minutes for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Stinking Cloud: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, creatures that fail the Constitution save against poison take 1d6 poison damage for each slot level above 3rd (no damage on a successful save).
  • Tongues: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target one additional creature for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Water Breathing: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target ten additional creatures for each slot level above 3rd.
  • Water Walk: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, you can target ten additional creatures for each slot level above 3rd. Alternatively, if you cast this spell with a slot level of 5th level or higher, it can target an unwilling creature (plus one creature for each slot level above 5th); targets may make a Strength save to negate the effect.
  • Wind Wall: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher, the damage dealt by the wall increases by 2d8 for each slot level above 3rd.

Fae Empowerment

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The following is a short rules set I worked up for an offer from a sidhe noble in my Beyond the Wall game: when the fae really want to tempt you to do something for them, they can offer up some of their own ability scores to give yours a permanent boost. The gift tends to come with quite a bit of the resonance of the sidhe, making it a bit of a mixed blessing and pulling you closer to becoming fae yourself. Permanent ability score boosts are obviously a pretty big reward for most D&D iterations; in my game, this was the gambit for the fae asking for ownership of the ancient crown mentioned last week (which the players, some with more regret than others, passed on taking).

Basic System

The fae can offer up to +4 to a particular quality, such as might or beauty (noted in parenthesis and mapping to an ability score). You may choose to give the player full control over how much is taken, the faerie may only offer a point or two, or you might offer it on a sliding scale (e.g., characters starting with a low score can get a bigger boost than those with a high score already).

Taking +1 has no ill effect. Characters that accept +2 gain the cosmetic side effect for the trait. Those that accept +3 gain the cosmetic and the minor side effects. Those that accept +4 gain all three side effects.

If you take one less increase, you also gain the boon. Thus, if you want the boon, you could take it, no ability score increase, and no side effects all the way up to the boon, +3 to the score, and all three side effects.

Qualities of Nature Fae (Spring/Summer/Seelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of plants (e.g., clubs, staves, etc.) increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter plants (e.g., blazing trails, hauling wood, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like tree branches when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You always Pass without Trace through forest environments (includes immunity to the Hedge).
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: Double all healing (natural or magical) when outside in a natural environment, and gain +2 to saves vs. Poison from natural sources.
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on the appearance of bark.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Winter (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Spring).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Flowers and vines twine through your hair while sleeping and are difficult to remove.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Druid’s Touch or Beast Ken cantrips (Druidcraft cantrip or Speak with Animals as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Commanding Word, False Friend, Inspiration, and Word of Courage and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Bless, Command, Charm Person, or Heroism at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become unnaturally aged during the Winter, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.

Qualities of Ice Fae (Autumn/Winter/Unseelie)

Strength (Might)

  • Boon: Weapons you wield made entirely of ice and spell attacks you make that deal cold damage increase damage by a die size. Double your progress rate when using force to move or alter ice or snow (e.g., sculpt ice, break through ice walls, blaze snow trails, etc.).
  • Cosmetic: Your muscles creak like stressed ice sheets when exerting themselves.
  • Minor: Treat iron as adamantine for the purposes of bending/breaking it (i.e., basically impervious to brute force).
  • Major: Iron or steel weapons you wield are at -1 attack penalty and iron or steel armor you wear is at -1 AC (due to feeling heavier than they are).

Dexterity (Grace)

  • Boon: You treat snow and slick ice as solid ground when you desire to do so.
  • Cosmetic: You exhibit unearthly thinness and a great degree of androgyny.
  • Minor: You are helplessly immobilized when bound in iron.
  • Major: You must save vs Spell or dance when exposed to certain music (as if Tasha’s Hideous Laughter in 5e).

Constitution (Health)

  • Boon: You take half damage from cold/ice attacks and treat temperatures down to freezing as comfortable (adjusting sub-freezing temperatures as if freezing was room temperature)(Cold Resistance in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your skin takes on a bluish pallor.
  • Minor: You automatically hibernate when sleeping in Summer (each day you must be woken forcefully or you will sleep until Autumn).
  • Major: You suffer vulnerability to Iron.

Intelligence (Wit)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Glamour Weaving or Second Sight cantrips (Minor Illusion cantrip or Detect Magic as ritual in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Frost patterns form on your skin whenever you are exposed to cold.
  • Minor: You must save vs. Spell to refuse a riddle game (Cha save in 5e).
  • Major: You are incapable of telling an outright falsehood (this may impose situational penalties to Deception if not well-roleplayed).

Wisdom (Intuition)

  • Boon: You gain your choice of either the Blessing or Hexing cantrips (Guidance cantrip or Bane at 1st level 2/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: Your eyes and ears transform to strongly resemble those of the fae.
  • Minor: You can be commanded by someone who knows your True Name (you may be able to save to resist commands).
  • Major: You must save vs Magic Item or be paralyzed by sound of bells (Str save in 5e).

Charisma (Beauty)

  • Boon: You learn the spells Obscurement, Petrifying Gaze, Terrifying Presence, and Whispering Wind and may cast +1 spell per day (Cast your choice of Dissonant Whispers, Fog Cloud, Hex, or Tasha’s Hideous Laughter at 1st level 1/day in 5e).
  • Cosmetic: You take on a fae cast to your features and assume the skin and hair coloring of the donating faerie.
  • Minor: You become a physical duplicate of the donating faerie (less any fae traits not assigned from other side effects).
  • Major: You become sluggish and uncomfortable during the Summer, taking -1 penalties to most physical actions.

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