He’s a Magic Man

May 15, 2017

Oof, magic. The biggest elephant in any Dungeons and Dragons shaped 10×10 room with an orc in it.

The problems with D&D’s traditional magic system are both numerous and arcane (hah!) and there’s no silver bullet to them. The answer, I think, is both complicated and difficult but it starts very simply – we need to make each style of magic mechanically different. The two biggest ones, the ones I’m going to talk about here, are Divine and Arcane magic – the focus of the Accolyte and Arcanist classes and all the classes that spawn from them – clerics, wizards, warlocks, paladins, etc.

The first change, I think, goes into how the spells manifest. Arcane spells in this system are going to be mutable, modifiable, and customizable – a reflection of the experimentation and examination that goes into making Arcane magic work. Divine magic, though, is more rooted in the powers they come from. There is no changing the prayers that summon them, and there is no adjusting the expression of that power.

So, details wise, what does this mean?

Arcane magic is formless and powerless by itself. It is shaped, directed, and defined by the magicians that summon it. Whether this is from materials infused with power, words that warp and shift a skein of energy from Beyond, or mudras – hand shapes and movements – that direct power summoned form within doesn’t change this core truth. Arcane magic is carefully controlled expressions of authority over the power that fundamentally creates reality.

Arcane magicians don’t learn “spells” in the traditional way, they learn the mechanics and schools of how to shape this energy. So their stats will include traits learned from the various Schools and Thaumaturgy skills. Thaumaturgy, incidentally, would have been called “meta-magic” in ‘older’ editions. There is also a system to allow the mages to create their own spells, with DM approval, that take advantage of their unique training and insights. To help new players, though, a list of spells will also be provided that explain what traits they require and will provide a bulk of traditional spells as well as new spells that fit the milieu of D&D.

Accolytes, though, do not spend their time learning the forms and functions of the universe. Instead they channel powers that go beyond arcane energy, that are shaped by the very forces their named after. Healing, War, Death, Disease. Arcane theorists think that these may be eddies of power within the rivers of Arcane energy, but they are older than any semblence of civilization. They are hoary, powerful things called Spheres or Domains, places where even the Gods draw power. Accolytes study prayers to these sources of power, and their spells are recitations of these prayers to pull this power directly to the plane they stand on. This means that while their powers are less flexible than their wizard brethren, Divine casters can execute their powers faster.

Mechanically, this means that Arcane spells take a whole standard action to cast, but Divine spells are a quick action. This lets the traditional Healer also still participate directly in combat, or snap off a couple of emergency heals when necessary. Wizards, though, are gifted with the flexibility and capability of being limited only by their imaginations. Something, I feel, fits most ideally into the story and flavor of the Wizard.

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