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.
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Mages of the Hedge

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This is a writeup for Harbinger’s Blog Carnival. It’s how I’ve taken some of the implied setting from Beyond the Wall and further embellished it for my The Hedge setting.

The wise of the Order have long espoused a simple rubric for categorizing magic. They talk of the arts of the sky and the secrets of the earth, of the truths of fire and the mysteries of water, and of the derivations of science and the intuitions of nature. Unfortunately for their desire to categorize, magic is not so easily divided. Some rituals reward those with a keen intellect, while others work better for those that are more intuitive and wise, but any mage willing to risk failure can easily learn magic outside of her natural inclinations. In the heights of their frustrations trying to get it all to make sense, many young initiates have just thrown up their hands and decided that any laws of magic may be beyond mortal comprehension.

Perhaps if there was a central conclave of the wise, they could compare notes and proclivities, finally narrowing down the differences in their styles. But even the “Order” is, at best, a loose confederation of lone practitioners that have seen some small benefit in presenting a unified front in the halls of mundane power. In truth, there are few magi at large, and their services are needed far and wide; though they are often quite willing to share their learning, they have little opportunity to congregate. While magic can ensure a clear day, a magical steed, and hardiness against the other dangers of travel, it seems to present few options for quickly crossing large distances. The patrons of the wise keep them busy at home such that long journeys along monster-haunted roads are not a regular enough occurrence to truly generate a magical society.

Instead, the craft is often a simple master-student relationship. When a child demonstrates a knack, if there is a nearby mage capable of taking on an apprentice, then that child may gain a teacher. Yet, doing so seems to be optional: many mages, if cornered, admit that they were able to assemble their praxis from the odd book, fae bargain, whisperings of old gods, or simple intuition. There are few mages in the world, and those born with the talent for it will inevitably find a way to express that talent. Those without a mentor may have rougher edges on their capabilities, but are no less powerful in the long term.

This capacity to intuitively begin evoking the supernatural could be dangerous for a young child in superstitious lands, and there are, indeed, rumors of distant places where witches are burned. But the lands of the old empires have a deep memory, if only in the form of stories and institutional pragmatism. They understand that most mages will never have more than a handful of tricks, useful but rarely terrifying. A small smattering of locals that can help with the weather, ward off supernatural threats, and confirm whether an odd relic is magical are worth the occasional misfire of a hex or angry blast of fire. Those that become skilled enough to evoke more awe-inspiring powers are deeply enmeshed in their communities by that time. For sure, one does not cross the village’s old witch for fear of the many things she could do in retribution… but also because she’s a local fixture with many friends, and no reason to cause harm to those that give her the respect she’s due.

As always, this is with a caveat that what works in the ancient lands near the Hedge may not be true in the lands settled by the encroaching northern Empire. While their diplomats speak honeyed words about tolerance of diverse views, those who have had opportunity to truly study the writings of their Church of the New Dawn have reason to doubt their benevolence. While outwardly loving, their monotheistic scripture draws lines separating magic in service of their god and magic in service of chaos. Many of the wise outside the Empire fear that their praxis could easily be labeled as falling on the side of chaos, once the Empire fully takes hold. Their words are well-meaning, seeking to morally justify unprovoked attacks on dangerous supernatural beings, but the definition of a “dangerous supernatural being” could some day encompass witches as easily as demons.

Ultimately, while they don’t have a true hierarchy, there are five rough ways to group the wise, and learn something useful about any given mage:

  • Many mages consider themselves scholars, even wizards. The most commonly represented in the Order and in the courts of the nobility, these mages put a higher premium on recording their secrets and reading the wisdom of others. Bookishness breeds an interest in formal philosophy, so they are very likely to try to work out the scientific and mathematical underpinnings of their powers. None have succeeded in a grand unifying theory, but they tend to specialize in spells and rituals with enough similarities to one another to hint at a shared origin.
  • Those who learn in the small villages along the Hedge could be considered witches, and some storytellers speak of an ancient tradition of druids whose teachings still resonate in modern arts. Many have little power beyond a trick or two to help out around the farmstead, but those truly dedicated can become just as powerful as scholars. While most rely on intuition and semi-formalized superstitions, some few claim to have heard the voices and teachings of the old gods directly.
  • The fae are natural mages, and those that share a bloodline with them often have strange powers that can blossom into full magic. Even those without a blood tie to the fae may learn tricks from them, if their whimsy puts them in a teaching mood. Few mortals become full mages from fae study, but the high sidhe themselves evoke a melange of arts that seem distinct from those of scholars or witches.
  • The imperial Church of the New Dawn views its magically-capable priests as clerics or templars, depending on martial bent. They are encouraged to focus on magic that protects and strengthens the virtuous and binds and destroys the wicked. Of course, most arts that can destroy the wicked leave a lot of discretion to the caster as to which individuals are subject to their god’s wrath.
  • Even less a unified group than the others, any mage can become an apostate, often through diabolism or necromancy. Treating with demons for increased power is a steep and slippery slope, and few are moral enough to learn the magics of undeath without the dark arts consuming them. Other mages are quick to disavow those that start down these dark paths, as they can become a greater danger to civilization than the worst beasts that slink out of the Hedge.

Minor Miscellaneous Items and Fortune-Binding

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This post is especially tailored to Beyond the Wall, and may be less useful if you’re using 5e or Pathfinder. It also starts with an aside to bring in a variation of attunement to the system, to keep characters from hanging on to every single minor miscellaneous item in case it ever proves useful.

Fortune-Binding

Many magic items are “fortune-bound,” and do little or nothing unless the bearer chooses to make them a temporary part of her legend. The bearer must spend a fortune point for one to become tied to her fate (assumed to be spent automatically if kept between adventures, without reducing starting fortune for the next adventure). Each character may only sustain a number of fortune-bound items equal to her maximum fortune points; binding a new item past this limit requires letting another become unbound and inactive.

Certain powerful fortune-bound items may automatically bind to the wielder, forcing lesser items to unbind if it pushes the wielder over the limit, and may even take up more than one “slot” of fortune points. If you put on the One Ring, it’s not going to wait for you to willingly bind it first. But at least they don’t cost fortune points to bind.

Binding an item typically unbinds it to its previous owner, though not in all cases (particularly for powerful items).

In general, weapons, armor, and other such functional items are rarely fortune-bound, but some of their more esoteric abilities might be. Likewise, potions, scrolls, and such consumables also do not require binding: their magic is self-contained and consumed by use. Ultimately, most fortune-bound items are those that provide some kind of selective and intuitive ability: being bound to a wielder’s fortune not only sustains their magic, but allows them to function at the appropriate time (i.e., automatically when the player wants the bonus).

Characters may also take the following new trait:

Signature Item: You have made an item fully part of your own legend. If it is fortune-bound, it does not count against your fortune points (i.e., it’s an “extra” fortune-bound item). If it is lost, it will always find its way back to you. If it is given away, lost without hope of recovery, or broken beyond repair, a replacement of similar utility will eventually make its way to you.

Example Items

Unless otherwise noted:

  • All items below are fortune-bound and charged.
  • The term “reroll” is shorthand for “expend a charge to reroll a failed roll that you just made.”
  • Powers can be activated as a free action when they are appropriate.

The most minor versions of the item can hold one charge, and you can make more powerful versions by allowing them to have more charges. By default, charged items regain all their charges overnight, and may also be recharged by the wielder spending a Fortune Point. Items may, of course, instead regain charges by any mechanism that suits the GM’s whimsy (e.g., a charm of Protection that is only recharged when the wielder suffers the full effects of a critical hit).

The items are presented as form-agnostic powers: since they’re limited to 3-5 per character, body slots don’t particularly matter. If the rogue wants to wear five rings, each with a different power, she should feel free to do so.

  • Animal Friendship: Reroll a Charisma check involving animals and other beasts of limited intelligence.
  • Biting: Expend one or more charges to increase the damage you deal with an attack or spell by +2 per charge (after rolling damage); this can at most double the damage dealt.
  • Blinking: Expend one or more charges as an action. You disappear from this reality into a nearby one. You cannot act while out of reality, but very few things can target you. You return to reality at the start of your turn after a number of turns equal to the charges expended.
  • Cantrips: Reroll a check involving activating a cantrip.
  • Crafting: Reroll a check involving crafting an item.
  • Deception: Reroll a check involving telling a lie, maintaining a disguise, or sneaking.
  • Health: Reroll a saving throw involving resisting a disease.
  • Hunting: Reroll a check involving following tracks, noticing things in the wilderness, surviving in the wilderness, or finding game animals.
  • Leadership: Reroll a Charisma check involving commanding or persuading followers.
  • Manners: Reroll a Charisma check involving etiquette, politics, or otherwise fitting in (either at court or on the streets).
  • Mind Shielding: Automatically expend a charge whenever subjected to a magical effect that would read your mind. That particular instance has no effect on you (e.g., if a spell, it would not work even with a long duration, but could be cast again).
  • Natural Armor: Expend one or more charges as an action (or as a free action simultaneous with taking your first action after the start of a combat). Increase your AC by an amount equal to the expended charges for the next ten minutes.
  • Perception: Reroll a Wisdom check involving noticing sensory data (actively or passively).
  • Persuasion: Reroll a Charisma check involving persuading, intimidating, or seducing an intelligent being.
  • Precision: Expend one or more charges immediately before making an attack roll to increase your result by +2 per charge expended.
  • Presentation: Reroll a check involving a performance.
  • Protection: Expend a charge to step down the success of an attack roll against you by one step (before damage is rolled) or step up the success of a saving throw you’ve made by one step (before the effects are declared) similar to the rules for sacrificing a shield.
  • Recall: Reroll an Intelligence check involving a lore or knowledge.
  • Regeneration: Expend a charge on your turn (maximum of one charge per turn) to heal hit points equal to your total level/hit dice.
  • Resistance, [Energy Type]: Expend a charge to halve a single instance of damage you’re about to take of the particular type, after damage is declared.
  • Rituals: Reroll a check involving casting a ritual.
  • Seeing: Expend a charge to detect all hidden, illusionary, invisible, or out-of-phase things within a 100 square foot area within viewing range (it lasts for a turn and that’s enough for a careful scan of such an area). Depending on the form-factor of the item, this may require looking through it.
  • Springing: Expend a charge to double the height and distance of a single jump.
  • Stoneskin: Activate this item as an action. While active, each time you take damage, halve it and expend a charge. Deactivate the item as a free action on your turn (it deactivates automatically when all charges are expended).
  • Striding: Expend a charge to double the distance you can move in a turn.
  • Sustenance: Expend a charge to act as if you had a single nourishing meal (3 charges/day to go completely without food and water).
  • Thievery: Reroll a Dexterity check involving locks, traps, sleight-of-hand, or sneaking.
  • Vigor: Reroll a Strength or Constitution check involving athleticism or raw physical potence.
  • Warmth: Expend a charge to ignore a single instance of damage to you from cold weather.

Minor Weapons

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Related to last week’s post, one of the big issues with item loss is that 3.x created very attractive magic items that had bonuses that could be worked directly into the sheet. When you have a +3, Flaming weapon, everything about that is permanently incorporated into your weapon block. It feels like a part of your character. Taking it away feels like losing stats.

In addition, it creates an impetus to price every magical effect (exacerbated by 3.x‘s formalized item economy), and there are definite winners and losers when you do that. Interesting but highly situational effects get comparison-shopped out of use. You’d only deliberately create a Ghost Touch weapon if you were fighting a ton of incorporeal creatures, and you might use it on a weapon that you got as treasure, but each time you have a downtime you’re going to think about selling it to get something with a more consistently useful bonus.

So for my upcoming Beyond the Wall campaign, I’m thinking about placing a flat moratorium on enhancement bonuses and any item abilities that provide some other kind of reliable bonus (of the kind that can easily be tagged to a stat line such as +1d6 fire). Instead, items will hopefully be completely focused on their abilities, and a cool item with an ability you like might be something you hang onto throughout your career (meanwhile, items you use less often won’t cause emotional pain when they’re lost).

Below is some tinkering with how this will work for weapons.

Minor Abilities

Most 3.x weapon abilities that don’t provide a flat bonus to attack or damage are probably directly useful, particularly Brilliant Energy, Dancing, Distance, Ghost Touch, Keen, Returning, Seeking, Spell Storing, and Throwing. New abilities could include:

  • Bane: This ability is usually contingent. Creatures damaged by the weapon suffer a penalty of 2 to all d20 rolls the subsequent round (this penalty stacks from multiple hits from bane weapons). If the weapon is held to a creature’s skin (or a contingent creature tries to wield it), the penalty is ongoing and the creature takes one point of damage per minute.
  • Blessed: This weapon can harm creatures that are only vulnerable to holy items, and may be useful for various story-related reasons.
  • Elemental: This weapon sheds an energy of some type (e.g., fire, cold, electricity). Its damage is treated as that type against creatures vulnerable to it, and it may, at the GM’s option, deal more damage than a normal weapon against creatures resistant to physical damage (e.g., a cold steel sword may do nearly as well as a silver sword against lycanthropes, but does nothing extra against a winter fae). The wielder may also use the energy for utility purposes (e.g., a fire weapon emits light and ignites things like a torch, a cold weapon can be used to slowly make ice, and an electricity weapon could be used to power ancient mechanisms).
  • Functional: This weapon is especially useful for a named function as a tool. A slashing weapon may be especially good at cutting underbrush or felling trees, while a bludgeoning one may be particularly good at smashing through obstructions. It grants a +2 bonus to skill checks to perform the task when the GM doesn’t let it succeed automatically.
  • Life-Drinking: A creature slain by this weapon heals the wielder a number of HP equal to the creature’s hit dice or level.
  • Lightweight: This weapon can be wielded far more easily than its form-factor implies. Two-handed weapons can be wielded in one hand, and one-handed weapons can be treated as light (sufficiently to be used by smaller characters or easily off-handed).
  • Magic: This weapon can harm creatures that are only vulnerable to magic items, and may be useful for various story-related reasons. Unless an item specifically references this ability, possession of other abilities does not imply that it is sufficiently magic for bypassing resistances.
  • Puncturing: This ability is usually contingent. The weapon’s attacks ignore the target’s bonus from worn or natural armor (but not from a dexterity or other bonuses to AC; i.e., make a touch attack in 3.x parlance).
  • Slaying: This ability is usually contingent. After rolling damage against a target, if double that amount of damage would drop the creature to 0 or fewer HP, the creature immediately dies; if it would not, the rolled damage is applied normally. For example, against a target with 10 HP remaining, attacks that deal 4 or less damage work normally, while attacks that deal 5 or more damage kill the target.
  • Unbreakable: When wielded in combat, this weapon cannot be broken (by directed attacks or misfortune). It is up to the GM whether this effect can be used for utility purposes (e.g., bracing something to keep it closed or otherwise stuck).
  • Warning: This ability is usually contingent upon type. The weapon glows or otherwise does something to notify the wielder of nearby threats.

Contingencies

Many abilities are contingent on something. A weapon can have different contingencies for different abilities.

  • Charged: The weapon must be charged through some action, and retains the ability for a certain period afterward and/or until a certain action expends the charge.
  • Code: The ability only functions while the wielder maintains a code relevant to the creation of the weapon.
  • Desperation: The ability only functions when the wielder has been reduced to half or fewer HP.
  • Environment: The ability only functions in a specific terrain (e.g., forest) or other environmental condition (e.g., outside in a storm).
  • Inherited: The ability only functions if the wielder is of a particular race or specific lineage (possibly including being trained in particular class or order rather than bloodline).
  • Situational: The ability only functions under some other quantifiable situation (e.g., during the day, against an oathbreaker, etc.).
  • Type: The ability only functions against a particular race or other specific description of target type. If the target is usually only vulnerable to a particular material, the weapon is almost always made of that material (e.g., lycanthrope-bane weapons are almost always made of silver).
  • Unbowed: The ability only functions when the wielder is unwounded/at full HP.

Example Weapons

  • Blood Drinker: This weapon (usually a sword or dagger) may be charged by the wielder taking damage as a free action (cutting oneself on the blade). While charged, it is slaying and life-drinking until it has slain a target or the blood dries. The damage taken by the wielder starts at one HP, and increases by one for each time it is used in a day.
  • Coffin Nail: This iron dagger may be charged by leaving it buried under a crossroads during the night of the full moon. While charged, it is bane, ghost touch, magic, and slaying against undead. The charge ends after a full cycle of the moon or once it has slain a single undead. Due to its bane property, undead that cannot be permanently slain can at least be buried under a crossroads with the nail in their hearts (the ongoing damage of the weapon keeping them quiescent).
  • Commoner’s Holdout: This small, concealable weapon is slaying and puncturing when the wielder is suffering desperation.
  • Family Weapon: This weapon is unbreakable while the wielder maintains the family code, magic when wielded by an inheritor of the family, and may also have other powers related to the family’s history.
  • Hedgecutter: This functional weapon (a sword or axe) is extremely good at cutting through vines, thorns, and other undergrowth to harvest them or forge a trail. It is bane and puncturing against plant creatures.
  • Sidhe Sword: This silver blade was forged for fae nobility. It is unbreakable against any situation other than cold iron. When wielded by an inheritor with fae blood, it often displays other powers.
  • Siegebreaker: This large mace or mattock is functional at destroying doors, walls, and other fortifications. It is slaying and puncturing against construct creatures. Some say it is lightweight for those that follow the right code.

Heavily Networked Player Characters

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As cellular networking improves, the ability to tell certain types of story become harder and harder, approaching impossibility.

Horror movies made in the last decade almost always need to justify that their protagonists have no signal, and that’s going to become an increasingly unlikely scenario. How often have you had no signal lately, compared with even five years ago? For modern games, you already have to explain a signal dead zone because it’s very unusual. For games set in the near future, the networks are only going to get more and more extensive (and, if mesh networks ever come into vogue, everyone’s a chain to the nearest node).

Occult and other weird mystery stories have a similar problem: everyone has a camera to put secrets on the internet, and everyone has a smart phone to pull them back off again. It’s particularly problematic if you want to build your story on real-world inspirations; your players only need a few points of reference to find all of the online resources you used to build the mystery, and telling them the Wikipedia page they’re looking at doesn’t exist in the game world stretches credulity.

Assuming you want to continue running modern games and/or futuristic games not set after an information apocalypse, how to you handle this prevalence?

A wizard did it

The go-to explanation that I see the most often is interference in technology caused by the mystical. Weird shit causes signal dead zones and extra dimensional beings can’t be recorded or even described electronically. This is hard to do well for a few reasons.

First, it means that you have to integrate this trait throughout your world building. It’s generally considered cheating if your magical beings can use technology perfectly well when they want to, but then deny it to the player characters whenever necessary. And not every game about the occult wants the monsters to be like Dresden Files wizards, forever blowing up any high tech they try to use.

Second, unless you are an IT professional, you’re probably not going to close all the loopholes your players come up with. Maybe it’s just because I’ve regularly had at least one programmer or network engineer at my table for the last several years, but I’ve grown accustomed to never satisfying them with a simple block. Saying that something technological doesn’t work correctly simply opens you up to a series of increasingly complex steps to route around the problem that they would use should they encounter something like it at work, many of which you won’t even have realized were possible or have any way to adjudicate.

Third, the natural response to the previous is a blanket, “it just doesn’t work, okay?” This tends to piss the programmers right off (unless it can be pointed out that their characters have less computer knowledge than they do, so they should have put more points into it). But even in the simplest denial, you tend to shake faith in the world. Players are becoming more and more complacent with information solutions to real world problems, and denying them in game sometimes stymies rather than inspires creativity. Technology not working the way we expect it to is already an out-of-context problem for tech junkies, and it’s only going to get worse as time goes on. If Googling doesn’t work, what do you do next? If it prevents an online search, is an electronic search for a dead tree book at the library going to work better?

Finally, frequently jamming technology might be more of a survival risk. A group of secretive beings that regularly causes cellular outages is eventually going to have their secrecy blown wide open by something as innocuous as a crew of telecom employees trying to figure out why their customers keep complaining about roving dead zones. That’s awesome if your protagonists are those telecom employees, but maybe not so much for other campaigns. And your IT-savvy players will try to use any “rules” you put in place to their advantage in detecting threats.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Perhaps a more plausible solution, given all the governmental wiretapping revelations, is that networking always works, but you might not want it to. While shadowy conspiracies with a back door into various telecoms can’t necessarily destroy information on the internet, they can potentially be alerted to people looking for it.

This mode relies on the protagonists being more worried about the men in black showing up than they are about the monster, but that kind of paranoia tends to be pretty easy to create. Also, from a mystical standpoint, “I have a spell/power that alerts me that someone’s looking for me, even via an internet search,” is probably an easier sell than, “magic cleans my traces from the internet entirely.”

Essentially, this says to players that they can use technology to investigate, but if they don’t cover their tracks they’ll give away the element of surprise and possibly have even more threats dropped on their heads. The PCs need their hacker not just to do a search, but to correctly configure TOR and come at a topic via search terms and linking that won’t set off any alarms.

And in a future game with mesh networks, you can even pull off the trick that suddenly there’s signal… because the enemy is in between them and the cell tower, and they’re sending all their searches and conversation right through its own computer.

You can’t ever split the party

Players in most games don’t ever want their characters to split up, so much that “never split the party” is a meme. GMs love to throw out threats against lone PCs, and the players have learned this lesson too well. Refusal to split up, even when it makes sense, is almost pathological.

This is an area where taking communication for granted is a strength. I’ve found that players are much more likely to split up in modern games where they can instantly call or text to share information or ask for help, and even more likely in futuristic games where they don’t even have to grab a phone to accomplish this, but can simply stream their permanent video feed to friends in real time.

You don’t even have to cut the feed to make this work. Normally, when you’re describing something terrible happening to a split PC, the other players at the table are having to struggle to avoid metagaming with information they know but their characters don’t. Getting it all on speaker phone while unable to do anything more than shout advice can make them more invested, and lower the metagaming dissonance.

Even if you’re not regularly going to pile tragedy on a lone party member, open communication can be a boon. Unless players have extensively played games where party splitting is common, it can be hard to retain focus and be polite when another player is getting spotlight time and you can’t interject in character. That is, they’ll tune out and become a distraction to the GM and active player. Giving them the ability to keep up with what’s going on in-character and to potentially give advice but not physically affect what’s going on is likely to keep them much more invested without detracting too much from the main player’s spotlight time.

D&D: Another Magic Item Creation System

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The magic item creation system in 3.x/Pathfinder remains one of the things that I obsessively try to revise until I’m happy with it, so here’s another attempt.

As a restatement of principles, my problem with the default system stems from several source.

  • First, it tends to devalue found treasure. Since you can sell most things for half value, and craft for half value, interesting items that weren’t exactly what the players wanted get sold and converted into something flavorless that does exactly what they want.
  • This is the second problem: the system seems to assume that a significant portion of character magic item wealth will be in situationally useful item and consumables. However, too-custom crafting means that everything a PC is wearing is laser-focused on that PC’s goals. Cool utility items never get kept or used.
  • Finally, odd breakpoints in the creation math mean that letting players have the ability to customize precisely can result in items that are underpriced for their benefit. The classic example is the wand of cure light wounds: it heals half as much as a wand of cure moderate wounds for one sixth the cost, and it is almost always the most cost-effective way to heal up out of combat (though I hear that the new flavor of the month is a first level spell that gives Fast Healing 1 for ten rounds).

The following systems are another attempt to address these perceived weaknesses.

Recipes

No permanent magic item can be created without first having a “recipe” for that particular type of effect. The simplest recipes are gained upon learning to craft a particular type of item, while others must be researched. The shape of the item (including the weapon or armor type for arms and armor) can vary, but the effect must be learned (e.g., once you’ve learned the Flaming enhancement, you can apply it to any valid weapon, but you still don’t necessarily know how to apply Frost).

A combined item does not require a special recipe, just having the recipes for each effect and paying the normal additional costs to combine multiple effects in one item.

An aside: I’ve chosen to minimize the use of Spellcraft in these systems, as the potential range it can take at even mid levels is huge and makes setting DCs almost impossible. A Wizard with high Intelligence, Skill Focus, and a +5 item has Character Level +20 or more in the skill, while a more skill-point limited, non-Int class might have significantly less. DCs impossible to meet for a Cleric might be basically unfailable for a Wizard. I think a lot of the default magic creation and research rules in Pathfinder suffer from this problem; making a Spellcraft check to accomplish something is a negligible cost for some characters unless you make the DCs insurmountable by others.

Default Recipes

Each crafting feat comes with a set of default recipes. All others must be learned separately:

  • Craft Magic Arms and Armor: You can add any level of straight enhancement bonus (assuming you meet the normal prerequisites) to weapons or armor.
  • Craft Rod: You can make any metamagic rod for which you have the matching metamagic feat and meet the other prerequisites.
  • Craft Staff: Pick three medium staves; you have the recipes for those items.
  • Craft Wondrous Item: You can make any ability-score-boosting item for which you meet the normal prerequisites.
  • Forge Ring: You can make rings of protection for which you meet the normal prerequisites

Learning Recipes

There are three ways to add recipes to a character’s list of options:

Training

If you assist in the crafting of an item that you would be able to craft if you had the recipe and are there for the full duration of the crafting, you add that item’s recipe to your list. This can be assisting another PC or an NPC (and NPCs may charge a fee of their own devising for learning their secrets).

Reverse Engineering

If you obtain an item that you would be able to craft if you had the recipe (and which is not somehow immune to dissasembly), you can dismantle it to gain an understanding of how it works. This takes about the same length of time as it would take to craft in the first place. When done, the components can be sold for approximately 25% of the item’s value (instead of the 50% you can usually sell an item for).

Research

You can take approximately as much time as it would take to craft a particular item (that you could craft if you had the recipe) to attempt to work out how to make it. This consumes money/resources (but not XP, if you’re using 3.x) equal to the crafting cost of the item (and an item is not produced at the end of the process) and has a small chance of success. The GM sets the chance of success depending on how obscure the item is and how little she wants it in her campaign. Suggested chances are:

  • Item from the core rulebook: 30% + 1% per CL the character has above the item (e.g., a 10th level caster researching a 7th level item has a 33% chance of success).
  • Item from other primary sourcebook: 20% + 1% per CL above item
  • Item from non-primary sourcebook: 10% + 1% per CL above item
  • Item from third party book or player-suggested: 0% + 1% per CL above item

A failed roll doesn’t mean the researcher goes away empty handed. Roll on the standard treasure table that most closely approximates the item being researched (e.g., if researching a medium Wondrous Item, roll on the medium Wondrous Item table). Through some fluke of research, the character learns the rolled recipe instead.

Other Changes

Brew Potion

While the change to Craft Wand below may bring them closer to parity, in general I’ve seen players profoundly uninterested in making potions: they cost over three times as much per use as a wand, they take more actions to use, they’re slower to create, and they’re less versatile. So I’d suggest:

  • Potion value is equal to Level x CL x 15 gp (instead of 50 gp; this brings the cost for 50 potions equal to the cost for a 50-charge wand).
  • If you’re making several of the same type of potion, you can make up to 1000 gp worth per day (instead of four per day if under 250 or one per day if between 250 and 1000).

Craft Wand

Wands have a minimum CL of 5. (This means that a wand of Cure Light Wounds should have a much more consistent comparison in cost to wands of higher-level healing spells.)

D&D/Pathfinder: Constrained Cleric Casting

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Since 3.0, clerics and druids have suffered from an overabundance of casting options. Wizards learn two spells per level and get more only when they’re ready to spend money to borrow books or scribe from a captured book. Divine casters get a giant list of spells dumped on them each time they hit a new spell level, and it only gets worse as more sourcebooks are added. It’s completely overwhelming to new players, and even experienced players have to comb through a whole list of spells they never use to find what they actually want to cast. Plus, while getting everything is obviously better from a pure power standpoint, it’s part of why clerics are boring to level; wizards get to make choices of spells on levels where they’d otherwise just get some skills, but clerics don’t.

This idea is blatantly borrowed from Harbinger and tweaked to work for 3.x/Pathfinder (his version was mostly focused on 5e). It affects all divine casters that normally get their whole spell list added automatically (so clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, and possibly some expanded material casters).

Basics

Divine magic is in many ways simpler than the complex formulae of arcane spells; the god is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and the priest needs only request the spell in an hour of prayer. While this means that the priest can keep all spells known in memory without the aid of a book, it does not touch upon understanding. That is, a prayer for a spell is more than just the words, it is the complex emotional resonance that conveys to the god exactly what the priest wants and that she is worthy. Attaining this mindset for each spell is essential to being able to channel its energy.

Divine casters gain basic spells known in the following ways:

  • They automatically gain any spells they can cast spontaneously (e.g., cures, inflicts, or summons) upon attaining the necessary spell level.
  • If they have a domain, they automatically get to cast the domain spells normally, and add them to the full spell list if they are normally available (e.g., a cleric with the Knowledge domains adds all spells from it as they become available except Detect Thoughts, Legend Lore, and Foresight, which do not otherwise appear on the cleric list).
  • They gain all level 0 spells on their list.
  • As soon as they can cast first level spells, they can add additional first level spells equal to their casting ability bonus (i.e., wisdom for most, charisma for paladins).
  • Finally, they automatically add spells known per class level like a wizard (i.e., no spells are gained automatically from a prestige class that grants additional caster levels).
    • Full casters (cleric and druid) add two spells per class level past 1st.
    • Partial casters (paladins and rangers) add one per class level past the first level they can begin casting spells (e.g., a Paladin gains first level spells equal to Charisma bonus at 4th level, and one spell each level at 5th level and beyond).

Any further spells have to be added via the methods below.

Scrolls

Whenever a divine caster casts a spell through a scroll, he can feel the flow of energy and try to get a sense of the mindset required to cast it. The spell must be on his spell list, and of a level that the caster could produce (i.e., if you cast a higher level scroll than your max level, you can’t learn it for later).

Make a reflexive Knowledge: Religion check at a DC equal to 15 + [Spell Level x 2] (e.g., DC 19 for a second level spell). If successful, add the spell as a spell known. This requires no additional actions, and the spell is available the next time the character prepares spells.

Teaching

Divine casters can teach others if they know a spell that the student is capable of casting but doesn’t know yet. The teacher explains the mindset of the spell (which takes about ten minutes) and casts it while the student is adjacent and paying attention to the energy (which requires a full round action if in combat).

The student then makes a reflexive Knowledge: Religion check at DC equal to 25 + [Spell Level x 2].

  • If both casters are of the same religion, the student gains a +5 bonus on the roll.
  • If the roll is failed by less than 5, the process can be repeated and the student gains a cumulative +1 bonus for each subsequent try (e.g., +2 on the third attempt to learn).
  • However, if the roll is failed by 5 or more, the student can no longer attempt to learn that spell from that particular teacher (their styles are just too different).

Relics

One of the major purposes of churches and glades is to retain the relics of fallen clergy. This might be the literal remains of the priest, either interred in a grave or sepulcher or displayed in the church itself (e.g., fingerbone). Depending on the religion, it might be the priest’s signature arms (for war deities), a work of art produced by the priest (for deities of craft and beauty), or simply a natural space that the priest tended and loved (for nature deities).

Each relic resonates with one spell of each spell level the priest could cast in life, and the clarity of the spells is even better than what the priest could teach while living. Priests of the same faith may meditate before the relic and consider the history of the fallen priest’s life to learn one or more of these spells. This is usually a service that churches allow all members in good standing to attempt for free; after all, they’ll leave behind their own relics to the church upon death.

Like the other methods, this only works for spells the priest should be capable of casting. The priest must meditate for one day per spell level (and it’s the level on the supplicant’s own list; e.g., a paladin only takes four days to try to learn Dispel Evil, even if it is from the relic of a cleric that knew it as a fifth level spell). At the end of this period, the priest makes a Knowledge: Religion check at DC equal to 15 + [Spell Level x 2]. If successful, the spell is immediately added to spell’s known. If failed, even by 5 or more, the priest can repeat the time spent to try again.

For a standard way to figure out what’s available in any particular church or glade, determine the head priest’s highest level spell. The church has 1d4 spells of that level and each level below, +1 cumulative for each lower level (e.g., if the priest is 5th level, the church has 1d4 third level spells, 1d4+1 second level spells, and 1d4+2 first level spells). Larger and older churches may have 2-3 times that available, while newer and smaller churches may have few or none (none of their priests have died yet; at least in a way that left a usable relic). Discrepancies in the random rolls on the levels (i.e., more higher level spells than lower) means that there’s some doubling up at the levels with fewer spells.

Churches often pay quite well for the remains of lost members of their clergy found in dungeons (and it’s left as an exercise of the rogue’s Bluff to sell back the remains of a priest that the party killed to his church). At the very least, they might pay as much for them as an NPC wizard would pay for a captured spellbook.

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